The tribe, which lives in a remote corner of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley, is home to an unusual ritual that sees young men gorge on cow’s blood and milk in a bid to be crowned the fattest man. The Bodi people are neighbours to the Mursi Tribe.
The Bodi people are agriculturalists who still engage in trade by the barter system. These pastoral people revere their cows. Their cows are so special to them that its blood together with fresh milk is a source of food for these people.
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Rather than kill the cows, they make a hole in one of its veins to get the blood out and close it back with clay. These animals are also used in certain ceremonies.
Among the ceremonies is the peculiar new year celebration. At the start of each year [the month of June in the Gregorian calendar], they hold a “Ka’el ceremony” (ceremony of fat men) to mark the new year celebrations.
The Ka’el ceremony is a competition for men who are not married which involves drinking the blood mixture.
The 14 clans present a man who is single and they deem fit for the competition. Those who are contesting prepare for six months. During this period, he must not have s₤x and must not be seen outside his hut.
There is a procedure for drinking the first bowl of 2 litres at sunrise while the rest comes easy and is taken all day. It is not unusual to see some of these contestants vomit the mixture because two litres was more than they can drink. On the day of the competition, they cover themselves with clay and ashes and display their acrobatic skills.
As part of the competition, they run around sacred trees for hours sometimes with the assistance of women. While at it, they are under the watchful eyes of their judges.
After this, the people use a sacred stone on a cow before killing it. The intestines are then used to predict what the year holds. When a winner is chosen by the elderly judges, they crown him, “fat man of the year title.”
Just like other beauty pageants, there is a prize only this time, it is the lifelong admiration of the Bodi people.
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. For now, the tribe continue as they always have, and still celebrate Ka’el in traditional style each June.
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 weeks later, the next generation of competitively fat Bodi men will be chosen and the cycle will begin again.