Goats on Motorcycles & Sheep in Cars:
Our First Turkish Bayram

Selçuk, we assumed, would be an uneventful overnight stop on the 650-km journey from Çanakkale to Fethiye.

Wrong. It turned out to be one of the most amazing and memorable experiences of our entire trip.

That night, driving around town in search of a decent parking spot, we passed a bustling, outdoor stockyard. The place was brightly lit and jammed with Turks. We made a quick U-turn and came back for a closer look.

Parked cars lined the surrounding streets, and the stockyard crackled with activity. People elbowed their way through the throng to examine sheep and goats in various pens. What on earth was this?

Suddenly it hit us. The Turks were buying their sacrificial animals for Kurban Bayram.

Kurban Bayram, one of the most important Muslim holidays of the year, is the “Festival of Sacrifice” that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. Thoughtfully, God gave Abraham a pass, providing him with a sheep to sacrifice instead.

During the holiday, Muslim families make an honorary sacrifice, usually of a goat or sheep but possibly even a cow, and then share the meat between family, friends and the poor. At least that’s how it used to be. These days, some families opt out of the sacrifice. The local supermarket was plastered with flyers instructing customers how to order special Bayram holiday boxes of lamb or beef.

Apparently making the sacrifice is now illegal in Turkey, unless it’s done in hygienic conditions by a professional butcher.

Yeah, right. Based on the number of animals we later saw swinging from trees over congealing pools of blood, I’d say lots of Turks still keep it old school.

Anyway, we managed to squeeze the rig into a dusty parking lot across from the action and tucked in for the night.

As we breakfasted the next morning, the three of us (four, including Archie) couldn’t take our eyes off a steady procession of sheep and goats being hauled away balanced on motorcycles, tied behind bicycles, loaded on to tractors, wrestled into car trunks, and even hoisted over shoulders. We’d never seen anything like it, ever.

We quickly agreed to stay another night and spend the day at the stockyard.

Around mid-morning Mark, Scout and I strolled over to the lot (sans Archie) and then spent the day wandering around, enjoying the swirl of activity. It was crowded, but nothing like the frenzy of the previous evening.

As the only non-Turks at a clearly local event, we stood out. A lot. The Turks watched us watching them.

We chatted with a few vendors in English and assaulted the rest with our pigeon Turkish. I tried—but failed—to be inconspicuous while taking photos. We sat at rickety tables and drank cups of steaming Turkish tea. For lunch we bought delicious, fresh-grilled, liver-and-onion sandwiches from a vendor.

Meanwhile Turkish families compared animals from crowded pens, hotly debating the ideal color, breed, sex and cost of various sheep and goats. Dad pointed at this one; mom pointed at that one. Young boys sold blue twine for 1TL so folks could hogtie their purchases. Vendors dragged reluctant animals to buyer’s vehicles and struggled to hoist them into car trunks.

It was exactly like a Christmas tree lot…except that Christmas trees don’t fight back as you drag them to your car.

Our day at the stockyard:

 

 

Later we headed to the  the farmer’s market, where business was brisk for the knife-sharpening guy.


 

Then next day, when we continued on to Fethiye, we passed lots of dead goats and sheep either hanging from trees and light posts or in various states of butchering.

 

We stopped for the night in Pamukkale.

On our evening stroll we came across this fellow, a professional butcher who camped it up for the camera and provided a fitting end to two of the most memorable travel days we’ve had so far.

 

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Turkey's For Life November 18, 2011 at 6:04 pm

We’ve got a set of those knives in our kitchen – granted the live animal has already ended its days by the time we cut the meat. 🙂 Great set of photos and definitely something for you to remember from your travels.
Julia

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2 Renee November 18, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Cheers, Julia. It was fascinating. I’d love to attend a family’s Bayram celebration some time, to see how it looks from the other side. Have you ever been to one?

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3 Mark November 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Fab write up on the history of Bayram & great pics/story of a few days in Turkey, thanks for sharing.

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4 Renee November 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Thanks, Mark! I’m so grateful we were able to be in Turkey for both Ramazan and Bayram. Genuinely memorable.

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5 Alan November 19, 2011 at 2:53 pm

. . captured the atmosphere of the run-up to this holiday so well. The insanity of the family animal transport arrangements have to be seen to be believed – hundreds of people get injured every year by run-away animals and traffic accidents as a result of our hosts’ anarchic behavior. Great photo ops though!
You might find this post of interest http://archersofokcular.com/2011/08/04/1348/
Looking forward to more of your Turkey posts.

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6 Mark November 19, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Alan, the experience was a fascinating cultural moment for the ramblecrunch crew. Again, I have to say, we were reminded of western families picking out a Christmas tree. The familiar intensity, rhythms and excitement were fun to watch. We would love to participate in the feast one day. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Come again. Do you ever get over to Fethiye?

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7 Alan November 19, 2011 at 9:39 pm

. . rarely; we will be there for the Calis Xmas Fair supporting a disabled artist friend. We live in the farming village of Okcular right next door to Dalyan. You can check out the village at http://okcular.net

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8 Mark November 21, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I read your description of Okçular and it sounds idyllic. A special place. Your photos are beautiful. I am interested in more information about the Çalis Christmas Fair. We will be in Fethiye for the holidays.

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9 Carol November 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Thanks for that Renee………so interesting to see ‘normal’ life in Turkey! Can’t wait to visit Fethiye again next year I believe that is where you are headed, enjoy…..

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10 Renee November 21, 2011 at 9:10 am

Cheers, Carol. We’re in Fethiye now and enjoying every minute of it.

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11 Suzy November 21, 2011 at 5:36 am

I don’t know if I would have the stomach to see and smell some of the sheep being slaughtered. It is interesting through that they still keep up the tradition.

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12 Renee November 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

Hi, Suzy. We didn’t actually witness any slaughtering. As for keeping up the tradition, I can’t help but think the end result is not unlike turkeys being killed for American Thanksgiving or other animals being offed for Easter or Christmas dinner. On the whole, it was a memorable cultural experience.

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