Subject: Castration ritual part of rural East Timor's oral history

Castration ritual part of rural East Timor's oral history


Ossu Rua, East Timor - Jose da Silva thinks he's 70 years old, though he isn't sure. His hair is white and his eyes are cloudy and his teeth just aren't what they used to be.

He smiles, showing off gaps where teeth are missing and those that remain are wiggly and red from chewing betel nut. He says his teeth have failed him. He tells of a time, not so long ago, when he could still chew on the still-attached testicles of baby goats and sheep, once or twice a year. He did it for decades.

"It makes their horns longer and larger," da Silva said of the strange castration process called kapa in the local language. "If you don't do it, the goat won't get any bigger." The kapa process could involve snipping off the testicles of an animal with a sharp blade, but folks here say it's just as easy and less bloody to crush them between two flat boards or to give the testicles a good chew. These days da Silva said he's only got a few goats, none of which need to be castrated. If they did though, he'd make his son do it.

Da Silva sits on a bamboo platform over the dirt floor of his bamboo hut. His family surrounds him and everyone laughs. Kapa, far from an embarrassment, is hilarious. There's nothing secret or shameful about it. "You have to do it a week, maybe up to a month after they're born," he said. "If you just chew on the testicles, there's no blood." "They scream though," his daughter adds. "The goats and the sheep, they scream." His daughter's never done it; kapa is a man's job. Whenever male goats or sheep are born, the head of the household will decide whether to perform the kapa ritual. It must be done in the morning hours or in the afternoon or, they say, the animal will die. Prior to performing kapa, the goat or sheep's genitalia will be washed and then afterward, whether performed via the blade the board or tooth, the wounded animal's nether regions will be swabbed with a concoction of kerosene and coffee grounds.

Everyone swears the goats and sheep grow bigger. There are no known statistics which might indicate the prevalence of the kapa ritual, but those interviewed said it happens all over the country. Yet chewing testicles is limited to goats and sheep. Pigs are dirty and anything else is just too big. Joao da Silva (no immediate relation) lives down the road from the old man. He is 25, still too young to perform a kapa, though he has seen his own father chew on testicles and slice them off. One day he will do it, too.

"Both ways have advantages," he said. "If you use a blade you can wait until the goat or sheep is bigger, but biting is the best way. With biting you're not so put out. It's less work." (dpa)

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