The customs and practices of numerous tribes in Ethiopia have been sustained despite the influence of Western civilization. Along the Lower Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia resides the Bodi tribe. They are farmers who despite advancements in global capitalism and the pervasive use of cash issued by central banks, continue to conduct barter-based trade.
In this tribe, married people are not permitted to converse with each other openly in public. Except for a small group of people, the society deems it improper to address people by their names in public spaces.
The culture of the Bodi tribe defines their way of life and makes them unique. And while they have many customary practices, one stands out, and that is the drinking of cow blood. Cows are sacred to these pastoral people. They value cows dearly as a source of food, wealth and status. A popular dish of the Bodi people is milk laced with cow blood. As opposed to slaughtering the cows for their blood, they instead make a small incision on a vein of the cow to draw blood, and thereafter seal it with clay.
The drinking of blood is a practice done by only men and is used during a New Year celebration known as Kael. The people of Bodi use the cow’s blood as a means of determining the fattest man in the tribe who is then rewarded. They claim that eating blood-laced milk makes tribesmen gain weight. In contrast to slim men, tribeswomen in the tribe region hold men with weight in high regard and reverence.
They esteem and view obese and pot-bellied men as healthier as and more handsome than slim guys, which runs counter to the culture of many others. Every tribe selects one fat man to represent them in a competition as part of a tradition known as the Ka’el ritual. No contestant is permitted to leave their huts during the competition’s three-month duration. The two-litre dish of blood and milk must be consumed rapidly by the guys due to the intense heat in order to prevent it from coagulating, but, not everyone can take consuming that much liquid so quickly. Every evening during their quarantine, each contender consumes 2 liters of blood and milk. The tournament would disqualify anyone who vomits the blood. There is a process for drinking the first bowl of two liters at sunrise; the rest is easy to drink and is consumed throughout the day.
There is ferocious rivalry among the tribe members. Prior to the competition, an unmarried man must be presented by each Bodi household to take part in the challenge. During the six-month term, the men are not allowed to leave their huts and are required to stay there.
The tribeswomen feed them while they are inside their hut, mixing fresh cow milk with fresh cow blood. The people who can grow the greatest weight are the competition’s victors, not the people who can gain the most weight.
Every year, the contest is held as part of the annual festival to commemorate the start of a new year.
Some may think the drinking of blood by the Bodi tribe is primitive behavior, but while their culture and uniqueness is at risk of being infiltrated it still remains that it is their culture and that is what sets them apart from the other indigenes of Ethiopia.