The Truth About Nepal's Blood-Drinking Festivals | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

The Truth About Nepal's Blood-Drinking Festivals

"Blood-drinking festival." Reading those words, it's hard not to get either creeped out or curious — especially around Halloween.

I opted for curiosity. Which is how I discovered photojournalist Jana Asenbrennerova's stunning photo essay on an obscure custom that takes place each year in the remote, mist-wrapped highlands of Nepal. These festivals are actually a reflection of the complex relationship that Nepal's Buddhists have with eating meat.

First, to be clear, we're talking yak blood here. Yaks are large, shaggy-haired animals related to cattle that live in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. Up there, yaks graze on herbs that villagers believe are good for digestion but aren't directly digestible by humans.

Yak blood is believed to contain the herbs' medicinal properties and other healthful benefits. "They drink it because they think the blood has healing properties," says Assenbrennerova. And so once or twice a year, villagers undertake an arduous trek up the hillsides to where the yaks roam. They set up camp for about a week, rustle up the yaks, carefully slit their neck veins and cup the blood that pours forth, drinking it while it's still hot.

Then they let the animals go.

"The yaks seem to be fine," says Assenbrennerova. "They don't like it, obviously, but they just run away."

She documented one of these festivals in August of last year in the hills above Marpha, a village in the Mustang District, in the Dhaulagiri Zone of northern Nepal. The festival site was a four-hour hike away, at a spot some 4,000 meters above sea level. What she found was essentially a village camp out.

"They play cards — it's like a big camp for them," she says. "They get to be away from home."

"It's a bit of a wild party scene," adds anthropologist Mark Turin of the Yale Himalaya Initiative.

He's attended the festivals in the past — they're "fairly widespread" across the sparsely populated parts of central and western Nepal, he says. Usually around 70 people or so will attend, says Turin, who has spent two decades living in and studying the region. One draw is the social aspect of the events, he says.

But there's another, unspoken motivation: the prospect of yak meat. "A yak is a serious animal," says Turin. "There's a lot of edible meat on a yak."

Let's back up for a second: The staple Nepalese diet consists of rice, lentils and vegetables. Meat is a rarity in the rural parts where the festivals prevail, says Turin. These communities are largely Buddhists, he says — and Buddhists are not allowed to kill animals. They are, however, allowed to eat the meat of an animal who dies by accident. Over-bleeding, he says, is a pretty good "way to accidentally end up with a dead yak."

Assenbrennerova says no animals died during her 24-hour stay at the campsite. But Turin says that's not usually the case.

"Every time I've been to one of these festivals," says Turin, "I've seen one or two yaks accidentally bled to death."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Team America' Is Benched: Won't Return To Theaters, Reports Say

One day after some U.S. theaters vowed to screen Team America: World Police in the place of The Interview, whose release was canceled, word has emerged that Team America has also been pulled.
NPR

What The Change In U.S.-Cuba Relations Might Mean For Food

The decision to normalize relations is driving all kinds of speculation about American food companies opening up shop in Cuba. But analysts say: Don't expect to see McDonald's there anytime soon.
NPR

Two Of Colorado's Neighbors Sue State Over Marijuana Law

Nebraska and Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit against Colorado with the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that its law legalizing marijuana isn't constitutional.
NPR

North Korea Has Invested Heavily In Cyberattacks

American officials have concluded that North Korea was behind the hack of Sony Pictures Company. Melissa Block talks to James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.