Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 7 August 2014 • Destination
WARNING: This article on Tomohon Market contains pictures of butchered animals that might be disturbing.
“I think I’m gonna cry at the Tomohon Market. I won’t have the heart to see a cat butchered and sold in pieces,” I said to Mumun.
“But I’m curious!” I didn’t even allow Mumun to say what was on her mind.
And so we went to Tomohon Market after the Bunaken dive trip. I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t faint upon seeing crazy things at the famous market.
We arrived a bit too late because, well, the Manado Tateli Resort was too cozy to leave early in the morning. Consequently, upon our arrival at about 9 a.m., many stalls were already running out of their goods or still had a little left.
I walked bravely in the alleys, I had prepared my guts to see whatever people said I would see in the market. There’s a joke that says “not a single cat nor mouse is safe in Tomohon or Manado because the people eat anything that breathes.” Crazy? I think so too, but it’s their custom. I was there to see the real thing, not to judge.
The first things I saw when entering the market area were second-hand clothes, snacks, spices, vegetables and fishes. Nothing weird. And then I saw eyes. Huge eyes that once belonged to huge sea fishes, sitting on red plastic plates along with its butchered meat and other body parts.
Moving on, I saw pig ribs hanging on some stalls, the legs and heads laid on the tables. Pork is not actually considered weird, but since Indonesia is dominated by Moslems, who aren’t supposed to eat pork, this kind of view is quite rare unless you live in non-Moslem dominated regions. Some tattooed men were butchering the pigs. They were friendly and asked where we were from. The cameras dangling from our necks must have given away that we were a bunch of tourists. They’re used to tourists in this market because a lot that goes on in Tomohon Market is not a common thing you’d find in Indonesia.
In the decades I’ve spent my life in Indonesia, Tomohon Market was the first place I saw grilled fruit bats, called “paniki”. They might make bat lovers panicking because these little creatures are laid with their mouths open and tongues tensely sticking out, which look painful. The people of Tomohon love eating paniki, cooked in coconut milk or in hot and spicy rica-rica, homemade or served in diners. The wings are sold separately and is said to be very crispy, or so I’ve heard.
Forest rats are also among the favorites of Tomohon people, maybe also by the Minahasans in general. They’re stuck on skewers, grilled, with eyes open and gesture that looks like they were trying to run away. According to a few locals, apparently it’s one the most delicious meat, beating pork.
A few meters from where I was observing the rats was a stall selling python meat. I am one who cannot stand the look of snakes, so I thought I was going to have goose bumps all over when seeing snakes in the market. Surprisingly, I didn’t. Maybe because I was mentally prepared, maybe because the snake wasn’t intact anymore. There was only about 1 meter long of the constrictor’s body left on the table. It was fat and gray. I don’t even want to imagine how big the thing used to be!
Here in Tomohon Market, this predator is just another kind of meat. A man and his son came to the stall and asked for 2 kilograms of the python’s meat. Apparently they didn’t want the skin, so the seller got rid of it, threw it like it was of no value. Fashion designers would probably freak out seeing real python skin is treated like a piece of garbage!
Then I got to the stall where they sold dogs. Only the head of a black dog was left, complete with its fangs. A dog lover would most likely curse people who did this. Someone actually scolded one of us for putting the picture of the dog’s head on social media because she’s a dog lover. But she eats meat, just not dog’s meat. I don’t get it. Where does she think beef or pork comes from? Sent cooked from the sky?
I did read some blogs and articles explaining about how they kill the dogs to be sold in Tomohon Market. I didn’t see it myself – thankfully, but I read that they hang a dog and beat it to death, while the other dogs are caged where they can all see their buddy being beaten. They say that the a dog meat tastes better with the beating of the dog. If it is cut and bleeds, the taste goes off. As gruesome as that sounds, it really is about taste.
A ridiculous reason why human shouldn’t eat dogs that I’ve read was because dogs are cute. Don’t get me wrong, I do think a lot of dogs are cute, and I don’t eat dog meat. But telling others not to eat something because it’s cute is.. just silly. Hey, many people think fishes are beautiful, then should we ban all sushi restaurants? I would support a logical reason of why people shouldn’t eat certain things, like not eating shark because it contains mercury that can interfere with your brain and nervous system. But not because something is too cute to eat.
Mumun and I discussed about this. We agree that we’re a country that is still developing, leaving some old customs amongst us. People eating different kinds of protein is just part of it. Most of what they sell in the market is from the forests, supporting the fact hunting is till a common activity amongst the Minahasa people. When we traveled to Talaud, we came across dog dishes, too. It’s an alternative source of meat, considering goat and cow meat can be very rare on such mini archipelago. Considering dogs, like pigs, reproduce easier than cows and goats, can you really blame them? And ironically, Minahasa people have dogs as pets and hunter dogs. As much as they love their dogs, they can eat them. So it’s a way of life.
Anyway. I was lucky that we were there on Monday. One of the pork sellers said that cats – dead and butchered – are only sold in the weekends, and another source said that it’s sold on Fridays and Saturdays, so I was sort of saved from heartbreak. Mind you, I wouldn’t like seeing butchered cats, I even cried for days when my kitty died when I was 10. But if it’s a custom and it’s not something illegal, and I haven’t heard or read of it being a danger to the environment, then what right do I have to scold them for that?
There are more kinds of animal’s meat that’s usually sold in Tomohon Market, like deer, wild boar, and the endemic tarsius. The cat meat is tagged with more expensive price. The more rare, the more expensive and the more prestigious someone is for having it on the menu. It’s said that cat meat is rare because there is none left. Some say, it’s even sent all the way from Gorontalo.
We stayed in Tomohon Market for about an hour, taking pictures and talking with the sellers. It was just another normal Monday to them. We then continued our trip back to Manado. Three of us were flying back to Jakarta, while Mumun, Vindhya and I continued our journey to Tangkoko to see the endemic tarsius, alive and intact in their habitat.
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