The most startling aspect of Eid Adha, or Tabaski, is not the booming accumulation of sheep in the city. Nor is it the strange and creative modes of transport for those (live) sheep: buses, trucks, the backseats of cars, strapped to the tops of taxis, hidden in half-closed trunks, the laps of motorcycle passengers, etc. It’s not the constant bleating from sheep tied up to trees and poles in every neighborhood. Nor is it the Thanksgiving-esque mad dash for sheep the day before the holiday, by those who put off the task.
The most startling part is the sudden, eery absence of sheep on the very afternoon of Tabaski. Leading up to the holiday, It seemed as though there were more sheep in this city than people; and all of the sudden, half the population disappeared. The bleating ceased, and skins hung to dry over walls and doorways where sheep grazed and rested only just before.
Eid Adha, festival of sacrifice, festival of gratitude. According to tradition, and the prophet Muhammad, the first morsel of food to pass the lips on this day should be lamb. In particular, roasted liver. In contrast to the elaborate meals of other holidays, Tabaski is only and all about the sheep. The entire sheep.
A mischievous Malian set me straight on the “disappearance.” In fact, the sheep weren’t all gone, they were still quite present: in the stomachs of the city’s inhabitants. And three days after Tabaski, he added with a smile, they would be right back on the ground where they were standing only days before.