Something out of the ordinary: Bullet Ant Glove Ritual

The Satere-Mawe tribe lives deep in the Brazilian Amazon. Here untouched by the outside world their culture and way of life flourishes. They are able to keep and pass down their traditions to younger generations due mostly to their remote location. Living off the land is put to the test on a daily basis. Hunting, gathering, and a rich material culture are all present by means of their environment. While this all sounds fine and dandy, the Satere-Mawe has one of the world’s most painful rites of passage, the bullet ant glove.

449px-Paraponera_clavataFirst off, if you do not know what a bullet ant is, it is a huge ant whose sting is likened to that of being shot, hence the name bullet ant. It is also known as the 24-hour ant as the pain lasts for well, 24 hours. Imagine being stung by a large wasp; now multiply that by 30 times and you are near the equivalent of pain produced by just one sting. Basically, the bullet ant’s sting is rated as the most painful among all known insects.

This ritual marks the transition into adulthood for the males of the tribe. To begin the men who will be participating go out and gather bullet ants. This unfortunately for them sets them up to be stung even before the ceremony begins. Once hundreds of ants are gathered the ants are then brought to the tribe’s medicine man where he drugs them allowing him to place them in the woven gloves. He takes great care to ensure that the stingers are facing the inside layers of the gloves so when the wearers dawn them upon their hands they will be stung repeatedly. To complete the ritual the gloves must be worn for ten minutes. The medicine man and the other candidates will initiate dancing with the wearer to distract their pain. The stings themselves are not too painful; it is the after effects that are far worse.

The venom shoots quickly through the blood of the body and into the muscles. The muscles become extremely weak, the entire body shakes, the lips swell and the eyelids begin to droop. The young men sweat profusely and drool uncontrollably. They will not be aware of their surroundings and may become very confused.

Once the candidates are through it will also temporarily paralyze their arms. So if all this wasn’t bad enough no man or boy can be a true Indian or warrior until they bear the gloves a total of 20 times. I wonder if it gets easier each time? My guess would be probably not.

So what was the point of me writing all this? Well besides the fact that I found this completely insane and interesting, it goes to show how different we all are not only individually but also culturally. While the Satere-Mawe tribe will most likely not become a client of ours, it is important that we understand and respect those who are. I have worked with clients and customers from all over the world while here at MMS who undoubtedly have different customs and beliefs. By developing a basic understanding of their cultures we are able to not only build lasting relationships but to also establish a mutual level of respect.

David Follo
Project Manager

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