Suffering Pain For The Sake Of Tradition: Bullet Ants And The Sateré-Mawé People

A bullet ant.
A bullet ant.

Bullet Ants And The Sateré-Mawé People

Most communities around the world are defined by their traditional practices and way of life. A tradition is a belief or behavior that is passed down within a society or community with symbolic meaning or significance with the origin in the past. Some of the common traditions include the observance of a holiday, food, rites of passage, punishments, worship, and clothing among other practices. Tradition is meant to give a community its identity and distinguish it from others. One of the communities that have a unique culture that has drawn both praise and condemnation is the Satere-Mawe. Part of their tradition includes the use of bullet ant sting as part of the initiation rites to become warriors.

Who Are The Satere-Mawe People?

The Satere-Mawe people are the indigenous people of Brazil mainly found in the Amazonas State. They are an ethnic minority in Brazil with an estimated population of 10,761. They were the first to domesticate and cultivate guarana which is a great stimulant in Brazil and used around the world to make a beverage. Satere-Mawe people are also known as the Mawe, Maragua, and Arapium. They speak the Satere-Mawe language which is spoken by the Tupan family. The Mawe people are some of the communities in Brazil that are popular for some of their traditions despite their numbers. One of the common practices that form the initiation rites involve the use of a special ant known as the bullet ant.

The Bullet Ant

The bullet ant (Paraponera clavata) is a species of ant named for its potent sting. The ant is mainly found in humid lowland rainforests of Nicaragua and Honduras. The Bullet Ant has several names from different parts of the world due to its notoriety. In Venezuela, the ant is called 24 ants or 24-hour ant because of the full day pain that follows its sting or the time it takes to kill a human. An adult bullet ant known as the worker ant is about 18-30 mm long and resembles a stout. Its body color is reddish black and possesses no wings. The bullet ant is a predatory insect and does not display polymorphism in the workers’ cast. The worker ant is larger than the queen. The pain caused by the bullet ant is said to be more painful than that of any hymenopteran and is considered the greatest pain by the Schmidt sting pain index. The sting is equated to a shot by some victims hence the name bullet ant. The sting causes a wave of throbbing, burning, and all-consuming pain which lasts for over 24 hours

Initiation Rites Of The Satere-Mawe People

The Satere-Mawe people include the bullet ant’s sting as part of their traditions for one to become a warrior. The insects are first submerged into a natural sedative to render them unconscious then they are woven into gloves made of leaves with the stingers facing inward. A warrior to be is supposed to slip the gloves into his hand for about ten minutes once the ants gain consciousness. The person is paralyzed for a short time because of the ant’s venom and may roll over or shake uncontrollably for some days. To complete the initiation process, one is expected to go through the ordeal 20 times over several months or even years.


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