Nhia Cha and Mayhoua Yang opened the butcher shop because there are still Hmong refugees coming to America, and most of them are very poor. Nhia and Mayhoua have been down that path before, and they didn’t want other refugees to suffer the way they did. So they have very low prices—like a hundred pounds of meat for only ten dollars...
Mayhoua is the secretary at the Butcher Shop. Being the secretary isn’t an easy job. You have to sign in the people, take them outside to look for the animal they want, give them a coupon (receipt?) for the animal they want, go out and watch the animal get killed and degutted, then give the animal to the [customer]—all for only a very small amount of money...
A Shaman comes to tell the animal it will be killed and...sent with a person who died...to guide him to his or her new life.
You can get the blood with the animal. The blood is important for the Shaman to use in a ritual. When a pig dies, it becomes the guide for the spirit of a dead person, guiding it through all the places it has been to, and all the things it did. The pig is a guide because animals have a better instinct of where home is.
They ask you how you want the animal killed, by one electrical shock, or in the traditional way. They butcher an average of eleven animals a day, three of those in the traditional way.
The pigs were in a cage about two feet tall. There was a big chain that hung down above a blue bucket. A worker attached the chain to one of the pig’s legs and pressed a green button and the pig went up. The pig was screeching and thrashing. After about a minute, it started to calm down. We walked out, but I had my head turned and she brought a knife and passed it through the pig’s flesh into the heart. Blood poured against the bucket like an explosion from a water balloon hitting the cement. Now the pig was screeching as loud as a fog horn.
I was staring at a hog as long as me, cut in half. It was hanging by its hooves from chains in the ceiling. Its ears were flopping down, its eyes were closed, and its tongue was lolling out. On a table nearby there was another hog’s head. I got so grossed out, I went to the house.... At the house, there was a qeej player named Nhia Vou. He had recently come from Laos and was staying with Mayhoua and her husband for a year. Mr. Vou knew one INCREDIBLY useful word of English: “Hi.” He was extremely good at playing the qeej. The music was soothing. Whenever we had a question, we’d ask John, one of Mayhoua’s thirteen children. Mayhoua and her husband were very hospitable. Before we left, they gave us food and juice.
When we entered the butcher shop we were greeted by the smell of blood. Everywhere. I nearly couldn’t stand it. We met Mayhoua Yang, who is the butcher shop’s secretary.... She led us to the pig pen and told us about the procedure for butchering. First, the customer comes into the shop and checks in. Then they go to the pen and pick the pig they want butchered. The pig is brought into a smaller pen where it will stay until it gets butchered. The pig is picked up by one leg and hung on a chain. Once it is up, it is killed. After that, they flip the pig over into hot water, and then onto a drying rack. Once it is dry, it is hung up by its hind legs.
Mayhoua showed us two horns. One was bigger than the other. It was a bull’s horn. She told us that the longer the horn, the better.... Once the ivory is worn off a bull’s horn, it is good for many purposes. You can use it as a bugle, for decoration, to draw on, and countless other ways. Mayhoua set the bull’s horn into a wooden box, with some other horns dripping with blood. Next she showed us a goat’s horn, also good for many different purposes. It is very good for curing fever. You get a horn without ivory, and put water in it. Then the sick person drinks it and it keeps the fever away. If a Hmong child’s soul is weak, they will cut off the tip of a goat’s horn and use it as a pendant. If you want to be powerful and magical, use a goat’s horn. Many Hmong people have it hanging in their home. Its stench also keeps away roaches.
Mayhoua said that when you die, you will be reborn. If you have a big, big goat horn, when you die you will be reborn and be rich and strong. If you wear a goat horn, you’ll be very safe. Spirits cannot come and get your soul.