Every October, Huajuapan, a town in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, is taken over by a bloody festival of slaughtering goats to cure the meat that involves all the residents.
Huajuapan, Mexico – A Mexican town’s annual fiesta has locals slaughtering thousands of goats, in a bloodbath faithful to local indigenous traditions.
The town of Huajuapan in Oaxaca state celebrates its ancestry in the second half of October, and custom dictates the preparation of the seasonal Mole de Caderas ("Stew of Hips") dish, a vital ingredient of which is cured goat meat.
“It’s a brutal sight, but the result is very delicious,” Isidro Ponce, a Huajuapan shopkeeper whose entire family gets involved in the annual slaughter, told Fox News Latino. “It’s a wonderful bonding activity for the community.”
The mass slaughter of goats here is a rite predating the Spanish arrival in Mexico. At La Matanza ("The Killing"), a ranch on the edge of town, the goats are killed, skinned, butchered, cured and sold in an operation involving more than 100 people.
“It makes sense to kill the goats after the summer, when they are fat from grazing,” the ranch’s owner Guillermo Maza told FNL. “We sell the cured meat throughout Mexico in the coming months, as out method of preparation has made us famous.”
Mole de Caderas
4 lbs cured goat meat
½ gallon water
½ lb Costeño chilis
½ lb Green tomatoes or tomatillos
1 bunch Pepicha herb
1 lb Guaje beans
Salt to taste
- Boil goat meat in lightly salted water for 2 hours to make a broth
- Grind Costeno chilis to fine pulp and mix with chopped green tomatoes. Mix in half gallon of water.
- Fry chilli and tomato mix in large pot until reduced to ¼ gallon.
- Add goat meat with broth and bring to a boil.
- Tie Pepicha bunch with string, so it doesn't get lost in the stew, and add to pot.
- Grind Guaje beans to paste and add to the mix
- Cook at a rolling boil for 90 minutes, stirring constantly.
Serve with white corn tortillas. Serves 4.
Once at their desired weight, Huajuapan goats are prepared for slaughter by being fed salt, denied water and herded a minimum of 15 miles from the hills surrounding the town to the slaughterhouse.
“The salt makes their blood very thick and their muscles very sinewy,” said Maza, who is the third generation of owners at the slaughter facility. “It’s a vital aspect of the process for achieving the final flavor we want.”
Once the goats are brought into the slaughter yard, pandemonium ensues. Workers are divided into the roles of "grabbers" and "stabbers." The former catch the terrified animals, hold their heads back by the horns as the latter cut into their windpipe just above the shoulders.
Schoolchildren sit on top of the walls surrounding the yard, staring in amazement at the nightmarish scenes below.
After a few minutes of rushing, stabbing and bleeding, the killing floor is bright red with the goats' blood, which is taken away in buckets to be made into a traditional taco sauce.
Pregnant she-goats don’t escape the knife, and, once slaughtered, are removed quickly to an unoccupied corner of the killing floor where a caesarean section is conducted. Few newborn kids survive, but nothing goes to waste; even the dead fetuses are consumed.
The dead goats are taken into the skinning area in wheelbarrows, where the grabbers and stabbers set to work skinning them.
The ranch sees up to four rounds of slaughter in one afternoon, as many as 1,400 goats, all of which are processed on the same day.
“It’s a huge operation,” Maza said. “Everyone needs to know their role very well if things are going to go smoothly.”
Nothing goes to waste from the carcasses. The pelts are sold for pillowcases, the horns are ground for medicinal use, the teeth go into baby rattles, the hooves are boiled for broth and the udders are hung out to cure in the sun to make a translucent leather that is very smooth except for the pockmarks created by the teats.
The goats’ innards are cleaned, a messy process that involves emptying its stomach, before being taken to the frying room, where they are cooked in the rendered fat of animals that were slaughtered before.
After being butchered, the more valuable meat is left to sit overnight in a covered concrete pool. The following morning, it will be shoveled out and placed on straw mats in a wide courtyard to absorb the sun’s rays.
“Our process is entirely natural,” says slaughterhouse manager Norio Flores, who oversees the curing process. “The goats eat natural food grazing the hills, and we use no preservatives other than salt and sun.”
The curing process is a four-day affair, with the meat set out daily in the baking heat, where it is salted and eventually turned browned by the process.
When ready, the meat is sold by the kilo at the shopfront or turned into the ranch’s own Mole de Caderas by head cook Adelina Soriano.
“People come from across Mexico to eat our Mole de Caderas,” Soriano told FNL. “Oaxaca is famous for its delicious food, and our signature dish is definitely one of the highlights.”
The goat slaughter is accompanied by a festival in which Huajuapan residents dress in Mixteca indigenous garments or like demons – a traditional warning to any belligerent neighboring adversaries.
Unsurprisingly, the tradition has caught the attention of animal rights groups, who claim it is barbaric and unnecessarily violent.
“These are innocent creatures that are being murdered in a terribly cruel way,” said Leonora Esquivel, the founder of AnimaNaturalis, an animal rights group which successfully lobbied for a ban on the use of animals in Mexican circuses. "The idea of tradition is no excuse for what is going on.”
“Ultimately the market will decide,” Maza, who says he is not worried by animal cruelty activists, told FNL. “When people refuse to work here, and the meat and Mole de Caderas stops selling, that’s when the tradition will come to and end.”
Alasdair Baverstock is a freelance writer based in Mexico.