Well. I have now eaten dog.
It was sort of inevitable, really; I walked into the village in the middle of a ceremonial…no, wait, I’d better tell the story in sequence.
I got to the silversmith’s late this morning because I lost some electronics and spent the morning searching for it. We haggled for awhile, discussing lessons and cost, and agreed that he would spend one day teaching me tomorrow for 1500 baht (about $36). $36 doesn’t sound like much, but in this area, that’s the wage of a skilled craftsman…minimum wage in Thailand is $3.50/day, and northern Thailand is quite poor. (Silversmiths are highly respected among the Akha; it takes great skill to make their decorative pieces.) I wanted to make one of the silver spheres, but he said that was too hard–his brother had been studying silversmithing for two years and still couldn’t make them on his own–so we agreed on something simpler: a silver drop spindle. (Yes, spinners, you can stop drooling now. 😉 ) So tomorrow I’m going to learn to melt silver, to hammer it flat, to put in decorative working, and then to weld the whole thing together. If I have time, I’ll make a bracelet or two in addition to the spindle.
(The silversmith, incidentally, is quite young, 32 or 33–but has been studying silversmithing more or less since he was born, at his father’s knee. I like him; he’s got a wry sense of humor, or at least I think he does–it’s amazing what you can read from facial expressions.)
He was busy that afternoon (or we would have started immediately)–he needed to go buy silver–so we went on to the weaver’s.
The weaverwoman is my guide’s mother-in-law, a bright and perky 61-year-old woman with a long, crinkly brown face, fantastic headdress, bad teeth, and much spinning wisdom. She has ten children (eight living–child mortality among the Akha seems to be quite high), of whom my guide married the youngest one, age about 24. She was very enthusiastic about teaching me; apparently the younger generation is completely uninterested in learning such things, and she wants to pass on her knowledge. She’s shown me all kinds of beautiful handwork that she’s done–bags, leggings, ceremonial skirts–and her indigo dyepot. She also showed me how to spin cotton on the Akha drop spindle, which is trickier than it looks. (I will spare nonspinners from the detailed discussion, but let’s just say I have immense respect for her skill.) Her name is Ahta.
Ah. You want to know about the dog.
Well, as we walked into the village, we ran into a clutch of women sitting around a table. They invited us in to eat–I was going to decline, as I’d just eaten at the silversmith’s, but remembered just in time that Akha custom requires you to enter a house and eat something if you enter a village. Not to do so is very rude–raises suspicion that you’re a thief or a bad spirit, and is bad luck besides (refusing to break bread with them)–so basically, if you don’t want to eat something, you’d better go around the village.
So, I said sure, fine.
We went around to where people were eating, and my guide looked a little worried and said, “Do you eat dog meat?” I blinked. He explained that they had just finished rebuilding the bamboo house I’d seen them gathering bamboo for a few days ago, and it was traditional to feast the workers on dog meat. So there I was, caught in the middle of a ceremonial feast…so what the hell, I ate it. 🙂
Dog tastes very much like duck, dark meat. Or maybe like beef, but a little less hearty. (That’s insofar as I could taste *anything* around the spices.) It’s actually pretty good meat, as such things go–certainly better than either rat or scorpion–but the bits of skin had a disturbing texture: chewy on one side, but, well, *crinkly* on the other side; I could hear my teeth going through it. Not bad, exactly, but a bit disturbing.
I asked my guide (several times) if there was any particular reason for dog meat–if it symbolized anything–but he seemed quite puzzled by the question, and just said it was traditional. Apparently dog meat is also traditionally served at weddings, so I gather it’s a festival meat. I suppose it’s like goose at Christmas and ham at Easter–I’d have a hard time explaining why we picked either of those meats, either.
(I could have a field day with Thanksgiving, though. “Well, we have a legend, that when the first white men came to live in America, they were very hungry, and almost starved. They thought they were going to die of hunger, until one day a friendly tribe came and brought them a magical feast, including turkeys, so ever since then we have eaten turkeys at Thanksgiving to commemorate the occasion.” Makes a great tribal legend, doesn’t it? except, we can *prove* it actually happened, so we call it history. 😉 )
They actually weren’t *quite* done with the house, actually. They finished it that afternoon (it was fascinating watching them split bamboo with mallet and block, and carve out mortises with hand chisels). It is apparently traditional to celebrate completion of a house by slaughtering a goat, but I unfortunately didn’t stay around to see that. (I confess I am fascinated by the butchering process, since I’ve never seen it before–though I doubt it would do much for my appetite.) I am certain, however, that the goat slaughter did take place; I saw them leading the goat up the road as we were leaving.
So that was today. Tomorrow, I’m spending the day at the silversmith’s, pounding on silver. I plan to take lots of photos. 🙂
P.S. I have now heard back from the body painter, who says that this month’s Farang! magazine cover was “very well received” (which I think translates to “evaporated immediately”) and many people have said it’s the best cover they’ve ever had. This, of course, makes me very happy. Who ever would have thought it? 🙂