Their ebony skin slick with sweat, two dozen naked men proudly parade their bulging bellies, dimpled buttocks and tree-trunk thighs.
In this twist on wearing one’s wealth, unmarried Dinka men gorge themselves on milk for more than three months in a competition to become the fattest. It is a way to make themselves attractive to women, to show that their family’s cattle herd is big enough to spare the extra milk.
“Winning makes you famous--like Garang,” says Mayok Mayen, 25, referring to the leader of southern Sudan’s 13-year-old rebellion. “They will say my father is rich, and all the women will love me.”
These contests of conspicuous consumption have disappeared in many Dinka areas because the war has decimated herds. But Payiir has been spared, and its residents can afford the competition.
The burden of Mayen’s weight suddenly becomes too much and he falls to his knees. With a walking stick, he laboriously presses himself upright.
Judges circle the bare behemoth.
“The winner must be big all over, and his body should be firm to the touch,” says tribal leader Daniel Ring Mabior.
Lying on a papyrus mat for 12 weeks to avoid burning calories, Mayen force-fed himself six gourds a day of milk blended with cow urine. That’s about five gallons. Weak from inactivity, his heart overworked by the huge weight gain, even talking became difficult.
His belly is bigger than a nine-month pregnancy, his thighs splay wide, a double chin rolls down his neck, his buttocks bulge.
But it isn’t enough. Deng Wauor, taller and bulkier, shaded by an umbrella carried by his mother and walking on bent knees to exaggerate his girth, wins this year’s competition.
Dinkas are normally very tall and very thin. They are surprised to learn that in the West, these fat men would be candidates for disdain.
“We love fat men,” says Akunyir Madot, a woman in her 20s.