A Tale of Three Chickens
I have been reading through Exodus, where God gave the law to Israel after taking them from Egypt. Pages of commandments about what is appropriate compensation to pay if your bull eats your neighbor's crops. I must admit, I was dragging my way through it - wanting to skip ahead to more exciting reading. But an interesting event in our village has shed new light on this passage for me, and the importance of justice in every culture.
Yesterday while we were sitting with our village enjoying fruit and conversation, a young woman from our village shouted something about a dog and ran down the hill toward her home. A short time later she came back, quite distraught, with her largest rooster dangling in her arms. Over the next 20 minutes, two more chickens were found, all three had been killed by two village dogs.
In an Akha village, dogs and chickens are all livestock for the dinner table. They are not caged up, but roam the village freely eating what scraps they can find. Although these animals often appear to be wild, they all have owners who feed them and, eventually, eat them. Generally all the animals co-exist peacefully, dogs learn as puppies that the chickens are not for them to eat.
But on this day the young Akha woman had lost three chickens, quite a large loss, meat enough to feed her family for some time. The two dogs which had attacked her chickens were owned by two different families.
We wondered how this situation would be handled. In our experience, village issues are often handled either by fists or by ignoring the real issue. But in this case there was a precedent, a village law. In front of the whole village a scale was brought out and the dead animals were weighed. Once all three had been weighed the woman was offered her choice of market value cash for the chickens or new chickens from the dog-owner's flock. She chose the money (about $12) and the dog owners were given the dead chickens. No fights, no hard feelings. Justice exists to protect those who cannot protect themselves.