The Pain of Growing Up – Being Stung by Hundreds of Bullet Ants in the Amazon Rain-Forest

Among the most bizarre coming-of-age rites we’ve ever featured is the one followed by the Satere-Mawe Tribe, an indigenous tribe from the Amazon rain forest, Brazil. What a boy has to do to become a man in this tribal community is painful, to say the least – he has to withstand being stung by not one, but a swarm of Bullet Ants. In case you’e not familiar with this exotic insect, here’s an interesting fact: the Bullet Ant claims the number one spot on the SSPI (Schmidt Sting Pain Index), a scale created by Justin Schmidt that rates the pain caused by different Hymenopteran stings. Some say the ant’s sting is just as agonizing as being shot by a bullet.

In preparation for the initiation rite, the elders of the tribe collect the ants from the jungle. These ants are drugged and placed stinger- first into special gloves woven from leaves. As the drug wears off, the ants become increasingly agitated and are raring to sting. This is when the boy puts on the gloves and lets the bullet ants work their magic, for 10 whole minutes, no less. “It’s the same as having your hands on fire,” says one Satere man. But the real pain starts once the gloves come off, and the venom starts to take effect. As the pain continues to rise, the hands become paralyzed and look like stumps. But just one attempt is usually not enough to turn a Stare boy into a man. He must go through this ritual as many times as it takes for him not to cry during the process. The day he doesn’t shed a single tear, is when he becomes a real man. Sometimes, this can take up to 20 attempts.

Photo via Oti the Lis

The practices of the Satere-Mawe are a stark contrast to the urban world, where initiation rites are as simple as going to college, getting a job and moving out of your parents’ home. But it’s different in tribes like these because men generally have little contact with young boys in the tribe, who spend most of their time with the women. But after the initiation is complete, the boy is taken away from the women’s world and introduced to that of men. It sounds primitive, but perhaps it is no different from a father taking his son out fishing or camping, or just spending time with him. Oh, and excluding the unbearable pain, of course…

 


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