The Dinka are a tribe of about three million people in southern Sudan. On average, they are some of the tallest people in the world. Geographic isolation has afforded the Dinka the ability to retain much of their ancient cultural traditions and their simple way of life.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of cattle to the Dinka people. Boys learn to tend cattle as early as age 8, and it is not uncommon for Dinka to risk their own lives to save just one of their cows. Virtually all Dinka marriages involve a payment of cattle to the bride's family, as well as the ceremonial slaughter of a bull during the wedding. Although cows are rarely eaten, dairy products are the prime source of food for the tribe. Cows are also the typical form of payment to resolve most disputes, which are rarely violent. Cow dung is even burnt for fuel, with the ashes used as makeup.
Aside from the prestige that comes with owning many cows, Dinka also compete for status by in the tribe by attempting to become the fattest man in the village during a yearly contest. Contenders literally gorge themselves on milk for several months and become so sedentary that their leg muscles start to deteriorate. Men have often died during this competition, which makes the victor seem all the more impressive. Although the specific origins of this contest are no longer known, it can be assumed that the qualities that make the fattest man respected and desirable among his peers involve the wealth of cattle needed to produce all that milk, the number of wives necessary to milk those cows, and the strength to endure such an intense shock to his body.
To this day, Arabs from Egypt and the north of Sudan still engage in the centuries old practice of kidnapping Dinka women and children as slaves. However, civil war and increasing conflict for grazing land pose the greatest threats to the Dinka and their way of life.