In the remote Amazonian village of in Inhube, the moan of the horns means a grueling initiation is about to begin. Several times a year, the Sateré-Mawé Indians hold a painful eleven-hour ritual in which boys as young as twelve must stick their hands into a pair of specially-made gloves, each one infested with a swarm of angry, stinging jungle carnivores-giant tropical bullet ants. No initiate can be considered a true Indian, a warrior, until he has worn the gloves not just once, but twenty times.
“People say that I don’t have the courage to do it. I have and I will do it”. The men face the prospect of getting stung even before the ritual starts, when they head off to capture the ants. A stab from this predator’s abdominal spear is thirty times worse than a bee sting. The tribe’s medicine man drugs the ants by soaking them in an herbal solution. But their stupor will only last long enough for them to be thrust, one by one, stinger first, into the gloves.
According to the Sateré-Mawé legend, these menaces provide the perfect test of one’s worthiness to take on adult roles. In less than an hour the ants are awake. Trapped in the woven mitt, they writhe in angry desperation. They’re ready to be inserted into the ceremonial gloves. One by one, each young man, steps up to the sacred pole and submits his hands to the swarm. Their agony is unmistakable. To help distract them, the medicine man, leads them in a dance around the pole. To be seen as a true tribal warrior, each must endure the ants’ punishment for more than ten minutes. With each sting, the bullet ants’ neurotoxic venom attacks the nerves, causing paralysis and terrible pain, and this is only the beginning. Once the gloves are off, the stinging and burning will only grow more excruciating. Now after watching the others suffer, Ted’s moment of truth has arrived. Unfazed, he keeps dancing while all around him the others succumb to the poison. Slowly, the neurotoxic venom is turning their hands into swollen, simmering, paralyzed stumps. Finally, the gloves come off and Ted remains standing.
“My body feels like a motor that’s heating up. If you throw water here, a lot of smoke will come out.”
It takes 24 hours for the toxins to dissipate completely. Ss the chief sees it, the ritual not only marks the initiate’s entrance into adulthood, it makes them better men.
“If you live your life without suffering anything, or without any kind of effort, it won’t be worth anything to you”.
Despite his long hours of agony, Ted has promised the chief he will wear the gloves nineteen more times, until he becomes a true adult.
Transcription by Y.Muriel
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