Christmas without beef is not Christmas among us Iteso. You may not have beef throughout the year, but at Christmas it is not acceptable not to have beef. Within Iteso rural classes, in fact, if you have no beef at Christmas you are among the absolute poorest of the poor. It is a shame on you and your family.
And so, as many other Iteso do in order to ensure that they have beef at Christmas, my aunts are part of Christmas savings groups. In January/February they each deposit with their respective savings group 40,000 shillings, so that the group leadership throughout the year grows the members’ savings by lending the money out with interest – to members and others.
Ideally, in November, all loans and interest must be paid so that the animal(s) are bought for slaughter at Christmas. Depending on the size, the cost of cows in October/November can range from 100,000 shillings to 150,000 shillings. Bulls are expensive – ranging from as high as one million to 1.5 million shillings.
24th December is the day when the animals (cows and bulls) are slaughtered. On that day, there is much joy and celebration as group members share the raw meat – all members in the group must get a piece of every part of the animal. The sharing method is intricate and fascinating to watch.
Once the sharing is done, women will be seen carrying baskets of meat on their heads from the slaughter place – usually it is under the tree at the clan meeting point – to their homes for preservation.
Rock-hard smoked meat ready for storage
The older women still possess skills for preserving their meat for months. They do so through salting and smoking it. These skills seem lost to the younger generation who are instead often seen cooking all their meat, fresh, and invariably always ending up overfeeding themselves and their children for the short-term (the three days of 24th to 26th December).
The need to eat all the meat before it spoils has been known to contribute to the rise in cases of upset stomachs during the Christmas period.
Featured photo – a Christmas lunch in Iteso cuisine – etaget, akokor, airing, eboo, and atap.