Bodi, the African Tribe Where Men Compete in a Fattening Contest

The Bodi tribe of southern Ethiopia holds a yearly festival in which the man with the biggest belly is honored and celebrated. To prepare for this big event, the men go on a grueling six-month fattening journey.

Obesity and big bellies are usually seen as banes of modern life that not only have a negative impact on health, but are also considered generally inesthetic. However, in a remote area of Omo Valley, southern Ethiopia, big bellies in men are considered impressive, even attractive. The Bodi, a tribe of agriculturists and cattle herders, celebrate their love of big bellies during a yearly festival called Ka’el, in which the man with the biggest belly is crowned ‘fat man of the year’ and earns the respect of the entire tribe for life. But in order to earn this honor, the men must go on a fattening diet of cow’s milk or yogurt, raw blood, and honey for several months before the festival.

Photo: Towfiqu barbhuiya/Unsplash

Up to six months before Ka’el, the men of the Bodi tribe begin their fattening process by virtually ceasing to do any physical activity and consuming the most calorie-rich foods they can get their hands on, which are usually cow milk and fresh blood. Cows are sacred to the Bodi – they have more than 80 synonyms in their language describing their cows – so they do not slaughter them for blood. Instead, they puncture a vein with a spear, collect a pot of blood and then seal the wound with clay.

During their fattening diet, the men abstain from almost any physical activities, spending their time in their huts being fed by their women. The first bowl of milk and blood containing about 1 to 2 liters is served at sunrise, but the men have to consume several of them throughout the day if they want to have a chance during Ka’el. Some of them have a tougher time holding down the protein-rich concoction and find themselves vomiting violently.


The men of the Bodi tribe are usually lean and muscular, but during their fattening process for Ka’el, some get so fat that they can barely move. But that is a sacrifice they’re willing to make in order to gain the respect of the tribe.

On the day of the Ka’el Festival, which usually takes place in June or July, the men cover themselves in clay and ashes and parade their fat bellies for everyone to see. The tribesmen vote for the one with the most protruding belly, and the winner is named ‘fat man of the year’. After the festival, the men’s stomachs shrink back down to their normal size within a few weeks.


The only prize for winning the fattening contest is fame and respect, but this is such a high honor for the Bodi that winners are usually considered local heroes for the rest of their lives.

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