The World’s Coolest Coming Of Age Traditions

Published August 17, 2013
Updated January 11, 2017

The Sateré-Mawé Coming Of Age Tradition: Bullet Ant Initiation

Coming Of Age Traditions Bullet Ant Initiation

Source: Flickr

The Sateré-Mawé is an indigenous tribe located in the Brazilian Amazon. The tribe has little contact with the outside world, though it has gained some attention over the years–especially the terrifying coming-of-age initiation ceremony that bestows the nickname “Sons of the Guarana” upon the tribal members.

When the boys in the Sateré-Mawé tribe turn 13, they enter the jungle to find and harvest bullet ants (around one-inch long) that will be used for the ceremony. A tribe leader then sedates the ants by submerging them in an herbal solution. Once the ants stop moving, they weave them into “gloves,” with the stingers pointed inward. After an hour or so, the ants wake up angrier than ever, and the initiation tradition begins.

Coming Of Age Traditions Bullet Ant Glove Weaving

Source: Tumblr

The young boys take 10-minute turns wearing the bullet ant gloves on their hands. Though the pain takes hold of them immediately, few if any of the young boys cry out. According to tribe members, the painful initiation is good preparation for life and proves that each boy will be able to fulfill the duties of manhood. Each boy becomes a man by wearing the gloves 20 times over the course of several months, as manhood in this sense is understood as withstanding pain without crying or showing weakness.

The sting of a bullet ant tops the SSPI (Schmidt Sting Pain Index), a scale that rates the pain caused by different Hymenopteran stings, and is considered 30 times more painful than a bee sting. Many say the pain is similar to that of being shot, hence the name bullet ants. Aside from pain, the venom also causes paralysis and the shakes, and takes a full 24 hours for the toxins to dissipate.

To see the initiation in action, check out this intense National Geographic video:

Kiri Picone
Kiri Picone holds a B.A. in English and creative writing from Pepperdine University and has been writing for various digital publishers for more than 10 years.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.