Ka’el Festival: the Unusual Ethiopian Festival Where Men Compete for the Title of Fattest Man

The Ka’el festival, in Ethiopia, is a plump festival where Ethiopian men from the me’en ethnic group compete to be the fattest in the village by drinking a mixture of blood, butter and milk while living in isolation for six months.

Ka'el Festival: the Bizarre Ethiopian Festival Where Men Compete for the Title of Fattest Man
Photographed by Joey L| joeyl.com

The ka’el festival is an annual event that’s organized by the Me’en people, a Surmic ethnic minority group inhabiting southwestern Ethiopia. Over time, the men in this area have developed a reputation for having the biggest bodies in the area, and have been nicknamed by their neighbors as “the Bodi.”

Ka’el, which translates as “fat men’s ceremony,” is the celebration of the traditional new year of the me’en people and occurs every year around June, four days after the first moon of the month.

Bodi people of Ethiopia ka’el festival
Photographed by Joey L| joeyl.com

The competition begins six months before the ceremony and every family is permitted to submit a single man for the contest, who, upon selection, retreats to his hut and is forbidden from exerting himself or engaging in sexual activity for the duration of the competition.

For six months, the contestants must adhere to a strict and regimented diet consisting of cow blood, butter, and fresh milk. Cows are considered sacred by the me’en tribe, so they are not killed; rather, blood is drawn by puncturing a vein with a spear or an axe and then sealing it with clay.

Me’en people of Ethiopia
Men feast on a concoction of cow’s blood, butter, and milk during the peculiar ka’el festival in an effort to win the title of fattest man. Photographed by Joey L

On the day of judgment, the now fattened men leave their huts and walk to the place of the ceremony with their bodies covered in white mud and ashes, wearing a headpiece composed of beads and feathers.

The actual ceremony entails hours of walking in a circle around a sacred tree, while being observed by the other men and assisted by the women who provide them with more milk drink and wipe away their sweat. The contestant with the largest swollen belly and firm buttocks is then declared the champion and is feted as a hero for the rest of his life.

Ka'el Festival in Ethiopia
The winner commands pride and respect, therefore even though it isn’t a tangible reward, it is the ultimate prize. Photographed by Joey L| joeyl.com

Once the fattest man has been chosen, the ceremony concludes with the butchering of a cow using a big sacred stone. Then, village elders would examine the stomach and the blood to determine whether the year will be promising or not.

After the ceremony, the men’s lives return to normal, and after a few weeks of restricted eating, the majority of them lose their plump bellies.

Ka’el is unique in that it is the only competition to adjudicate based on fatness alone; there are no muscular men here – just men who have mastered their bodies to gain as much fat as possible.

Ka'el Festival: the Unusual Ethiopian Festival Where Men Compete for the Title of Fattest Man
Photographed by Joey L| joeyl.com
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
Ka’el festival in Ethiopia
Preparation: On the big day, the contenders for the Bodi tribe’s fattest man ceremony ready themselves by covering their bodies in a mixture of white clay and ash.

Bodi people of Ethiopia

Mr Madu
Mr Madu
Mr Madu is a freelance writer, a lover of Africa and a frequent hiker who loves long, vigorous walks, usually on hills or mountains.

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