Sunday, November 3, 2013

Prized Fat Men

If you have been labeled as plump, portly, or paunchy – don’t lose any sleep over it! If you are amongst Ethiopia's Bodi (or Me'en people), bigger is certainly better. The tribe, which lives in a remote corner of Ethiopia's Omo Valley, is home to an unusual ritual which sees young men gorge themselves in a contest to be crowned the fattest man. 

Now the little known rite is the subject of incredible photos taken by French shutterbug Eric Lafforgue – who spent time with the Bodi while traveling through south-western Ethiopia during the run up to the Bodi New Year or Ka'el celebration. 

The competition begins six months before the ceremony. Every family is allowed to present an unmarried man for the challenge, who, after being chosen, retires to his abode and must not move or have sex for the duration. 

Food comes in the form of a cow's blood and milk mixture, served regularly to the men by women from the village. “The cows are sacred to the Bodi tribe so they are not killed,” explains Lafforgue. “The blood is taken by making a hole in a vein with a spear or an axe, and after that, they close it with clay.” 

Because of the scorching temperatures, the men have to drink the two-liter bowl of blood and milk quickly before it coagulates but as Lafforgue reveals, not everyone can handle drinking so much at speed. 

“The fat men drink milk and blood all day long,” he says. “The first bowl of blood is drunk at sunrise. The place is invaded by flies. The man must drink it quickly before it coagulates but some cannot drink everything and vomit it.” 

On the day itself, the men cover their bodies with clay and ashes before emerging from their huts to show off their newly engorged physiques and for a winner to be chosen. The champion fat man is then feted as a hero for the rest of his life. (As I blog about this, my colleague David Chong comes to mind! If you see him, you know he easily qualifies!)

Sacrifice: The Bodi kill one of their precious cows at the end of the ceremony and the village elders inspect its blood and entrails to see what the future holds for them. 

Opportunity: Women use the Ka'el ceremony to inspect potential future husbands   in the Bodi tribe, fat is considered extremely attractive.

The 2013 champion is the man in the photo above.

Sadly, the Ka'el ritual and the Bodi's traditional way of life is under threat from the Ethiopian government who plan to resettle 300,000 people from all over the country on their lands. But for now, the tribe continues as they always have, and still celebrate Ka'el in traditional style each June.

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