7 October 1986
What do you take on a clandestine visit to a Muslim guerrilla group as a gift? “Dried fish and instant coffee,” said our contact, Ismael. “I want it to be something really special,” I said. “Something they’ll remember us by.”
Jojo, my interpreter, said that with Christians it would be roast pig. Ismael looked worried. With Muslims, he told us, the really special gift would be a goat. “But also instant coffee,” said Ismael.
It had to be a tender goat and, of course, it had to be alive. We bought it in Cotabato market. Then we bought the ingredients to go with it. As we loaded them into the Jeep, I felt we were being tactless in front of the animal. “How’s that goat doing, Ismael?” I asked, turning to the back seat. Ismael replied solemnly: “The urine is very odorous but the meat is good.”
He was right about the appropriateness of the gift. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) spend a lot of time in the mountains and jungle where boar are plentiful but forbidden by religious rules. A goat means a special occasion. Hadji Al Murad, the MILF chief of staff was pleased.
To prepare a goat in the rebel style, you must first face west and persuade the animal to lie down. Then you slit its throat and ask God to forgive you for what you have done.
To skin it, you hang it by the legs, insert a tube between the skin and the flesh and blow. The skin inflates and when the goat looks like a balloon it’s easy to handle. But remember that if you skin a goat you are throwing away one of the bits the rebels like to eat. An alternative is to burn the hair off, then wash and chop. But neither approach will do for a special occasion. To prepare a goat a la MILF, after you have killed it you pour water over the fur, then pluck it and singe off the remaining hairs.
Wash it in cold water and chop it up. Throw away the penis – the one bit that may not be eaten. Set aside the innards and testicles for another dish. Wash the chopped pieces in vinegar. Then, assuming you have about 22lb of goat, rub in one tablespoon of turmeric.
Heat one-and-a-half pints of light vegetable oil in the largest pan you can find. Add three heaps of garlic, skinned and chopped, a bunch of spring onions, chopped, 10 red onions, chopped, two good-sized roots of ginger; peeled and cut into rough chunks, 30 black peppercorns, a tablespoon of paprika and 10 bay leaves. Fry the spices for two or three minutes, add a pound of potatoes, chopped, and stir well. Cover and leave a little longer. Then add the meat, stir again, cover and cook until the juices are almost all absorbed.
Meanwhile, roughly chop 30 small hot chilli-peppers, add to the mixture with enough water to cover the meat. Season to taste with salt and (the rebels say this is optional) monosodium glutamate. Cover again and cook until tender.
Ismael, a veteran of 35 battles, told me the quantities. I imagine they could be varied for the modern kitchen. Our goat was sent to table at task, on a parade ground at the jungle’s edge. It was served with rice, and we ate it with our fingers, washing it down with instant coffee – a surprising delicacy for an area which grows its own coffee. But that is the extent of the prestige of the multinationals.
As the sun set and the air grew cool, we warmed ourselves up with glasses of Nes. And then, from further up the mountain, came the sound of chanting the Koran, The chief of staff excused himself, saying he had to pray.
Darkness fell. Fireflies came out. Frogs croaked. Somewhere a loudspeaker warned the guerrillas it was forbidden to go near the women’s quarters at night.
Jojo, Ismael and I were shown to our hut. It was too early to sleep, so I turned on the radio. Somewhere in England, a party conference was in full cry.
Ismael said to me: “It really was a memorable goat.”
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