We have started a two week course on Dinka culture and it has been fascinating. I want to share a few stories from what we are talking about each day. Please know that these tidbits may not be totally accurate and that I may be accidently noting them outside of some larger, and important, context.
#1a – Milk
There is an initiation rite for the male youth of the Dinka Atuot tribe that involves much milk. A group of men, usually between the ages of 18-25, will be told to go to the cattle camp for an errand. Unbeknownst to them, liters of milk have been collected by the women of the camp. When the men get to the camp they realize that the time of their initiation has arrived. They are told to sit cross-legged on the ground and to drink all the milk that is placed in front of them. They will not be able to take a bathroom break or throw up the milk, which will be brought to them throughout the whole day. Our teacher thinks he drank up to 9 liters of milk during his own initiation. If a man cannot drink all the milk or cannot keep it all inside, he will be ridiculed. At the end of the day the men are taken to a secret place, because newly initiated men are more prone to bewitching, where they will stay for a week. At the end of the week they are officially men and can start looking for wives!
#1b – Fat Man Contest
The Fat Man contest is held during times of peace and stability when a community is feeling secure and well-to-do. The goal: to become the fattest man in the area.
To become a fat man you will not move for a whole season and will have people bring you lots of food and milk. It a status and wealth symbol because it shows everyone that you have enough milk and food to consume excessively while still providing for your family. This competition is not for the faint of heart and it is possible that you may die as a result. But do not worry because if you die from overeating you will be celebrated. This is a good thing! At the end of the contest people will come together in the common area of the town to show off their newly formed bodies.