When Becoming a Man Means Sticking Your Hand Into a Glove of Ants

Young men must subject themselves to a ritual involving bullet ant-filled gloves not once but 20 times

Initiation With Ants

In America, adolescents tend to stumble into adulthood with a party—a bar mitzvah, a quinceañera, a sweet sixteen—or, most likely, no ceremony or marked celebration at all. But around the world, often—and especially for boys—entering adulthood requires some degree of proof that one is ready for its rigors.

This might mean spending time alone in the wilderness or engaging in homemade bungee jumping. But the prize for most extreme coming-of-age ceremony likely goes to the Sateré-Mawé people, who live deep in the Amazon. Their ritual, reserved only for young men, is exceptionally painful, in both a physical and psychological sense.

Boys as young as 12 years old must gather bullet ants from the forest, which are then used to make ant-ridden gloves. The young men wear the gloves 20 times for 10 minutes, performing a dance while those angry insects sting them. As National Geographic points out in its video about the ceremony, the bullet ant's sting is supposed to be 30 times more painful than that of a bee, and each of those gloves contains dozens of ants. 

The ceremony, the tribe chief says, is meant to show the men that a life lived "without suffering anything or without any kind of effort" isn't worth anything at all. 

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