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October 12, 2011

A Goat for Dzul

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – “What do we need a goat for?” I asked my wife after she informed me we needed to get one. I had visions of the four legged creature living on the balcony overlooking the Sarawak River eating my carefully tended orchids.


“For Dzul,” she replied. He is my nine month old son. Now the vision took me to the balcony with my son and the goat playing together.


“Does everyone in the kampung buy their son a goat?” I inquired politely. “No, sometimes they buy a cow” was the response. Now the vision changed to a cow on the balcony.


I had long ago realized that I was entering a new world with different customs and traditions and I promised myself I would abide by these social mores.


“But we can get milk from the store,” I replied. “Besides he is breast feeding,” I said trying to sound logical.


“Oh, we don’t need the goat for milk. We need to slaughter it for Dzul.” Goat meat is a staple here in the kampung and is delicious in curry. However, my son did not have any teeth and was too young to eat curry.


“What are we going to do with all that meat,” I questioned eyeing our small freezer. “Oh, it’s not for us, it’s for the poor!”


“You want me to buy a goat, kill it, give it to the poor and tell everyone it’s from Dzul?” “Of course,” she replied as if everyone in the world does this and I was a complete dolt for not knowing.


I knew better than to ask the next question but I meekly in a low voice said “why?”


“Dzul needs something to ride into the afterlife,” she replied. “Oh, okay,” I said acting like this made perfect sense.

I was not going to push this any further fearing we would go further into the twilight zone.


“Where do I buy a goat,” I asked. She named a few places. I just did not have any experience selecting an afterlife goat for my son, and I did not particularly want to wander around a herd of goats trying to pick out the best one.


The next day, I went over to the Surau (a small mosque) across the river and talked to some of the elders. Yes, they would slaughter the goat for me and distribute it to the poor. “How much is a goat?” I enquired. Seven hundred ringgit was the immediate reply apparently the going price for a live goat.


“Would I have to be present?” I asked being squeamishly and not wanting to be around during the killing. They looked at me strangely and I gathered this was what a father was supposed to do for his son. Then they understood I was an American and said no, they would take care of it. I was relieved.


“How is the goat going to know when to get my son for his journey into the afterlife? I meekly inquired. They looked at me as if I didn’t know anything, which I didn’t, and replied: “We will whisper your son’s name into the ear of the goat” “Oh, that’s right” I exclaimed as if I suddenly remembered.


“You know how much they want for a goat?” I asked my wife. “Seven hundred ringgit!!!! “ I told her hoping she would change her mind about the goat. “Yes, that’s about right,” she replied.


“How in the world do poor people afford to buy a goat?” “They don’t buy a goat, they buy a cow” was the reply.


“Isn’t a cow more expensive than I goat?” I asked. She looked at me exasperated. “Yes but seven people go together and buy a cow for their children.” I had visions of many people riding a cow. “The meat is then distributed to the poor of the kampung.”


Tomorrow I will go and purchase the goat being thankful it’s not a horse.


For other article on Borneo, see Tom’s blog at


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