Sallah was a special time growing up. My parents are Muslims and so they have been ram-killing Muslims for as long as I have known them.
Back then, we used to travel to our home town to celebrate Sallah. With father’s extended family, his brothers and step brothers alike with their wives and children in a huge, four-storied family house.
It was always a festival of fun and food. Reuniting with several family members. Meeting up with new sets of cousins, aunties and uncles and distant cousins.
Being Muslims, all of my uncles, the married ones especially, were obligated by Islam to slaughter rams, particularly those who have the means. Let me also add here that rams with blemishes are forbidden for slaughter in Islam. Also, where there are rams and bored children, there would be ram fights.
Now, I had cousins whose sole purpose for Sallah was to engage one uncle’s ram against another. The rams were usually tethered in a field just opposite the family house. Our jobs as kids was to water and feed them before Sallah.
However, the boys amongst us were only interested in ram fights.
Looking back now, we engaged in a lot of cruelty to animals then. You see, my cousins forced the rams to fight. They would stuff the ram’s nostrils with taba or local snuff, to get the animals high. They would then twist the ram’s tail, pull its hind leg and push it against its opponent to charge and lock horns.
There would be sickening thuds as the rams butted heads. The losing ram would often drop its head in surrender or buckle under the weight of fierce head butts.
No Sallah without ram fights
Whereas the winning ram’s manager, (yes, manager because the owners of the rams never even knew their nephews were engaging their rams in fights,) got the prize which often ranged from extra pieces of ram meat promised in advance when all the rams had been slaughtered and fried or a few naira notes.
So, there was this Sallah, as usual. All the cousins converged at the field where all the rams of the family members had been tied. We all prepared for several matches; as rams were pitted against one another. There would be a winning ram amongst all the rams which could number up to 10 or more, depending on how buoyant our fathers were.
Among the fathers was an uncle. He was an ex-military man. He was as fierce as he was feared by his nieces and nephews. We called him Alhaji K.
Among my cousins too, was a rascal, Rilwan who dared to pitch Alhaji K’s ram against another uncle’s ram. Now, Alhaji K’s ram looked like a buffalo. The ram was squat and wide and full of meat. That ram was almost human.
It would prance around after every victory; lifting its horns in defiance, snorting and showing its upper teeth at us cheering spectators. Maybe it was the taba working, who knew?
Anyway, Rilwan snuffed Alhaji K’s ram with more snuff shortly before the final fight. It was looking to be the champion ram for that’s year’s Sallah. With one final twist of its tail, a slap on its flanks, Rilwan pushed Alhaji K’s ram forward for the fight.
We were cheering, jumping, anticipating a victory…
Sallah ram gone mad, another dead!
The opponent ram was in no mood for a fight, though, it would drop its head every time someone pushed it to fight. Perhaps it was tired or maybe it knew what the outcome of the fight would be.
We booed and forcibly pushed it towards its opponent. Finally, it readied itself, like telling itself, let’s get this nonsense over and done with.
It kicked back, scratched the earth with its hind hoofs and charged. We heard a sickening twack and the buffalo-ram buckled, staggered sideways and collapsed…dead!
We didn’t have enough time to take it all in because the winner ram charged at us, lifted a few surprised kids with its horns and knocked them over. Then it went after every kid that didn’t think fast enough to run out of its way…It was a mad ram!
We ran blindly, falling over one another, screaming…It took a while but an adult finally caught the rampaging ram and secured it.
We had cuts and bruises and a few bled plenty from gashes on their heads. But that wasn’t the worst thing though. It was that Alhaji K’s ‘buffalo’ was dead and we were all in trouble!
Rilwan’s eyes were red. He must have seen his life racing before his very eyes. Literally his own body in a shroud being lowered into the earth that very evening because Alhaji K would have him head!
He scrambled to resuscitate the buffalo-ram but no show. We also disowned Rilwan, because on this dead ram matter, he was solely on his own.
No one dared go report to Alhaji K about the ram. What would you say?
Lessons learnt from ram-fight debacle
‘I watched as Rilwan gave your ram snuff, twisted its tail, pulled its hind leg to charge at the other ram and didn’t think to come call you before the other ram knocked it dead.’
No one had the liver to and yet, we were all complicit.
Rilwan ran away!
Meanwhile, at the homestead, the family compound, word had gone ahead to Alhaji K and the dead ram taken to him. The whole house quaked as he cursed the day Rilwan was conceived! He cursed his upbringing and cursed the rest of us who watched without thinking to come notify early enough.
Sallah was a sullen affair, even though the other brothers had quickly contributed money to replace the buffalo-ram with a doglike version…
At least, give something to Alhaji K to slaughter the following day being Sallah so he could fulfill his Islamic duties. He was not appeased. He wanted Rilwan’s head.
Our parents scolded us. They banned us from going out to play. Meanwhile, we took cold comfort from the pieces of meat we were given afterwards.
Thankfully today, Alhaji K and Rilwan are good together again and that incident curbed our ram fights.