The Lambs Underline East/West Differences

While this article suggests definite differences between how eastern cultures and western cultures view grazing sheep, one story about a lying shepherd can be found in both cultures.. In that story the shepherd learns the hard way why he should always tell the truth. His lies lead to the arrival of a real wolf, ant to loss of the lambs under the shepherd’s care.
Someone from the Middle East must certainly puzzle over the seeming contradiction in one particular movie title: The Silence of the Lambs For the people of Iran, at least, the lambs are anything but silent. Acts performed with a lamb or with adult sheep say a great deal to the average Persian.

A typical custom in Iran calls for the sacrifice of an animal upon the return home of a long-absent loved one. Family members usually search among the lambs for the perfect sacrificial animal. Only poor families refrain from killing sheep. They tend to substitute a chicken for the more traditional four-legged wooly creature.

This bloody tradition appears to have a dual purpose. In one respect, it seeks to create blood before fate calls for the shedding of blood. Sacrifice of the lambs does not only serve as part of a welcoming ceremony. It also provides families with a way to inaugurate use of a new family car.

At that “inauguration ceremony,” the family does not just kill a sheep or chicken in front of the new vehicle. The family members also place drops of blood on each of the car tires. The placement of that blood sends a message, a message that the tires do not need any further association with blood.

There is another way that a ritual killing can send a message. After a family kills a sheep, it shares it with the neighbors. The ability to purchase and kill a sheep shows that the family lives a life of plenty. The sacrifice serves as a sort of status symbol.

Even Iranians living outside of Iran have been known to demonstrate a strong tie to the ritual killing of sheep. Back in the 1980s, an Iranian ambassador in England wanted to mark a special event, one that took place in London. The ambassador had one of his employees kill a sheep at the gates of the Iranian embassy in that British capital.

No doubt the Londoners who witnessed that ceremony found it to be rather shocking and “morbid.” It probably made them shutter. The shutters elicited by the sacrificial killing called for by the ambassador probably resembled the shutters of those who viewed The Silence of the Lambs.

For westerners the word “lambs” usually conjures up a picture not unlike those used to illustrate the books with Mother Goose rhymes. A number of those rhymes mention one or more sheep. One of the sheep was lost; one was black. One sheep followed its mistress to school. None of the sheep in those rhymes had to be sacrificed.

Maybe Hollywood is trying to revise the western perception of a kind and gentle lamb. In the process, Hollywood has also challenged the thinking of those familiar with Persian customs. Hollywood has equated lambs with an atmosphere of silence.

Will Hollywood continue to introduce the image of the lamb into material with an undertone of horror? If Hollywood were to do that, years of old rhymes would seem obsolete. Persian customs, at least those involving the sacrifice of sheep, would likewise be viewed as reminders of past misconceptions.

How can such a sacrifice send a message, once society has come to believe that lambs are silent?
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