The Bodi or Me’en people, living in a remote corner of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, southern Ethiopia, known as “The Omo Valley”. South of the Bodi are the Mursi tribes, in Mago National park. Along the banks of the river, they grow sorghum, maize and coffee. They live with their cattle herds and livestock that play a large role in the tribe.
The Bodi celebrate an unusual ritual called Ka’el, the tradition that measures the body fattening competition. Each family or clan is allowed to enter an unmarried contestant. They spend about six months guzzling a mixture of blood and milk in a bid to fatten up as fast as they can. Men from the Bodi tribe compete to become the fattest during the New Year or Ka’el ceremony, between June and July.The winning fat man doesn’t get a prize but is feted as a hero for life by the rest of the tribe. Being slim might be in elsewhere but for Ethiopia’s Bodi or Me’en people, bigger is always better and being hero.
Every child of Bodi tribe wants to become one of the fattest men, considered as a hero. On the day of the Ka’el ceremony, the tribe’s fat men walk for hours around a sacred tree, watched by other men and helped out by the women. The challenging feat begins about six months before the Ka’el ceremony. Each competitor is nominated by his family who then spend the next six months helping him to fatten up on a diet of cow’s blood and milk all day long. The first bowl of blood is drunk at sunrise. The man must drink it quickly before it coagulates. On the day itself, the men cover their bodies with clay and ashes before emerging from their huts for the walk to the spot where the ceremony will take place. The dress code for the ceremony also includes a selection of beautifully worked headdresses, made from cowries’ shells and ostrich plumes. Once the men are ready to go, they walk to the sacred tree where the ceremony takes place. During the walk and the ceremony that follows, the Bodi women are on hand to help out the fat men with drinks of water and fortifying alcohol.
Once the fattest man has been chosen, the ceremony ends with the slaughter of a cow using a huge sacred stone. After the dance, the bodies of the contestants will be inspected by the Bodi Village elders. The fattest person is then declared as the winner of the competition and is honored with great fame.
Women use the Ka’el ceremony opportunity to inspect potential future husbands – in the Bodi tribe, fat is considered extremely attractive.
After the ceremony, the men’s lives return to normal and most lose their enormous bellies after a few weeks of eating sparingly. But a few times later, the next generation of competitively fat Bodi men will be chosen and the cycle will begin again.