Slim might be in elsewhere but for Ethiopia’s Bodi or Me’en people, bigger is always 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 on cow’s blood and milk in a bid to be crowned the fattest man.
Six months after starting the regime, the men emerge 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.
Every child wants to become one of the fat men, according to Lafforgue, who are feted as heroes by the rest of the tribe for their incredible feat
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.
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-litre 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 for the walk to the spot where the ceremony will take place.
Decoration: The dress code for the ceremony also includes a selection of beautifully worked headdresses, in this case, one made from cowrie shells and ostrich plumes
Every part of the men’s bodies are daubed with the ash and clay mixture and the men also wear colourful beaded necklaces and bracelets
Thanks to the weight gain, many of them find covering the short distance tougher than the weeks spent fattening up. ‘Some fat men are so big that they cannot walk anymore,’ explains Lafforgue.
‘One asked me if he could use my car to go to the ceremony area. Once in the car, he started to drink milk and blood again because he said he wanted to keep trying to be the fattest until the very last moment.’