When can a man declare that he is already a man? Some would think it happens after a youngster starts to get a raspy voice, grows hair on unwanted areas, develops big biceps, or develops interests on bigger toys, or maybe when he starts to father several kids. Every culture has their own definition of masculinity and different levels are needed to meet in order for men to say that they are one. Some require circumcision – from surgical knives to rocks. Some would even do a bungee jump from wooden towers wearing vines just to achieve manhood. And somewhere in Brazil’s Amazon, a native tribe has been practicing a paralyzing kind of ritual – using a killer glove made of bullet ants.
The tribe of almost 10,000 members inhabiting the northern regions of the Amazon, the Sateré-Mawé, is the group that was popularly known to be the first to cultivate guarana, a climbing plant that is a popular ingredient in energy drinks. The Sateré-Mawé has remained untouched by external influences and has preserved their traditional practices up to this day. These ancient practices include the wearing of bullet ant gloves to live up their culture valuing strength and courage.
Strength and courage are the qualities every Sateré-Mawé member must have to protect fellow tribesmen and provide a steady supply of food for everyone. Warriors and hunters in the tribe are highly respected, that’s why young boys are raised with a mind aiming to become a warrior and a hunter.
A true warrior can overcome anything including pain. Thus, the young Mawé boys’ strength are challenged against nature’s venomous species of ant, the Paraponera clavata, or popularly known as the bullet ant because of its painful sting similar to the feeling of being shot.
These ants look like black, wingless wasps and their length can range between half-an-inch to an inch. The scarier thing about this bullet ant’s sting is the toxins, neurotoxin and poneratoxin, which freeze the transmission of information by the nerve cells. The venom also causes uncontrollable shaking and throbbing pain that’ll last for days. The scariest is, the Mawé boys don’t need to get stung only once but many times more, from months to years.
To start the initiation ceremony, the group will have to locate a bullet ant’s nest and sedate them by wafting a smoke over it. The unconscious ants are woven into a pair of gloves made from leaves with their stingers facing inward. Then, the young boys as young as twelve slip their hands in the oven mitt-like gloves, keeping them in for ten minutes. Indescribable pain can be thought ticking with the time with the gloves on. Songs and dances are performed to celebrate the event and at least, make them young warrior-to-be boys forget the pain.
After ten minutes, the gloves are removed. The boys on the other hand experience muscle paralysis, disorientation and hallucination that will last for hours.
The young men deserve respect for they’ve overcome the bullet ant glove, but it isn’t done yet – it’s just the beginning. There are 19 more sessions to go before they can have the honor of being a true Sateré-Mawé warrior.