Becaming a Man, The Satere-Mawe Way

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Satere-Mawe Videosatere-maue-hp1

Hello everyone again. Caramuru here and as promised, here is great little article on the boys in our tribe and their trip to manhood. Don’t miss the video in the end.

Negotiating the transition from boy to man can be a tricky time in a guys life. The liminal period of maturation, known to scientists as puberty and to everyone else as hell, wages hormonal warfare on both the body and the mind. Limbs grow gangly and uncontrollable, skin breaks out, voices begin to scratch and squeak at all the wrong times (usually when talking to a girl), and both body odor and hair begin to appear in strange and sometimes unwanted places.

It’s just like bungee jumping. Except with vines. Credit: The Telegraph

 Surviving that period of time should be more than enough to for a boy to be able to declare himself a man. But for some reason, in the most of the world, it’s not. In most cultures around the world boys must negotiate risky, dangerous, and often potentially life-threatening rites of passage in order to achieve manhood.

On Pentecost Island in the South Pacific they tie vines to their ankles and leap headfirst from wooden towers; among the Maasai of East Africa, boys make the transition to manhood by being circumcised with a sharp rock as teenagers; and in the highlands of New Guinea, a secret society determines when Sambia boys become men: a multi-year seven step process that culminates in the boy fathering his first child. These are dangerous, intricate rituals practiced for generations, but none are quite so painful, nor quite so seemingly masochistic as the Satere-Mawe’s bullet-ant glove.

The Satere-Mawe

The Satere-Mawe are an indigenous group who live deep in the Brazilian Amazon. For many years they were most well known for their great contribution to keeping students and teenagers awake all-night in a hyper-caffienated buzz: the Satere-Mawe were the first to domesticate the plant guarana, a stimulant found in energy drinks. But courtesy of YouTube they’ve been gaining fame for another reason – their painful initiation rituals.

RITUAL DA TUCANDEIRA INDIOS SATERE MAWE AMAZONAS

But before we get into that, I’d like you to meet Dr Justin Schmidt.

Schmidt is an American entomologist and an expert in honey bee ecology, communication and behaviour.

But that’s not his greatest to contribution to science (although it’s pretty great). Over the course of his career, he’s spent a lot of time being bitten, stung, and envenomated by insects – an occupational hazard of the entomologist. Unlike most of us, who would curse a little and carry on (or change jobs), Schmidt played the good scientist and began to take notes on the experience.

RITUAL DA TUCANDEIRA INDIOS SATERE MAWE AMAZONAS RITUAL DA TUCANDEIRA INDIOS SATERE MAWE AMAZONAS

After years of accidental, and painful, ‘research’, Schmidt eventually published two papers detailing the stings of 78 species of Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees, and sawflies). He reported both the immediate pain of the sting on a scale of 1-4, and the duration of the pain. Fire ants are level one, honey bees are level two. There are only three level fours: the warrior wasp, the tarantula hawk, and the bullet ant (Paraponera clavata).

Bullet ants, like aye-ayes and bilbies, are the only living members of their genuses. The bullet ant is between half-an-inch and an inch in length and looks like a black, wingless wasp. It lives in nests at the base of trees, and forages in the leaves overhead for small insects or arthropods, supplementing its diet with nectar. They range from Nicaragua to Paraguay, and have a number of colloquial names throughout their habitat, but one is common across all the countries the ant inhabits: the 24-hour ant. When agitated, the bullet ant stings, injecting venom into its unfortunate harasser. The venom contains a potent neurotoxin, poneratoxin, which blocks synaptic transmission at the injection site – fancy science for saying it freezes the transmission of information by nerve cells, causing paralysis. It also causes pain. “Waves of throbbing, burning pain which continues unabated for 24 hours.” Hence the name. Luckily, you’re not likely to stumble across one unless your an entomologist (or a primatologist) – or a Satere-Mawe boy.

  RITUAL DA TUCANDEIRA INDIOS SATERE MAWE AMAZONAS Becoming a Satere-Mawe man involves getting up close and personal with the bullet ant. At the time of initiation, the group will locate a bullet ant nest and waft smoke over it to knock out the ants. The unconscious ants are collected, and carefully – I’m guessing very carefully – woven into a glove made of the leaves. The end result is a leafy green iron maiden. Shaped like an oven-mitt on the outside, the ants are embedded within the leaves with their stingers facing inwards. The man-to-be then slips the glove on, and must keep it on for ten minutes. At the end of ten minutes the glove is removed, although generally not by the boy, who is usually busy being paralysed and/or convulsing. The boy will generally recover within a week – but the ritual can be fatal. Unfortunately, even for the survivors, once is not enough to prove you are a man. The boys will have to repeat the process many times over months, or even years, before becoming accepted as a man in Satere-Mawe culture.

Meet the insect with the world’s most painful sting.

RITUAL DA TUCANDEIRA INDIOS SATERE MAWE AMAZONAS

Inviting…….

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to draw conclusions about human behavior that extend accurately across all cultures. There is just too much diversity – a level of diversity and adaptability that make us unique as a species. But rites of passage are a virtual constant around the world, particularly for boys. It’s difficult to know why, but the most commonly posited reason is that boys lack an obvious physical change signalling their sexually maturation (as compared to girls, where in many cultures menarche is the line that demarcates girlhood from womanhood). Because there’s no obvious physical process, all around the world humans have come up with bizarre and dangerous ways for boys to prove that they are men. Whether its sticking your hand in a glove made of ants, bungee-jumping from vines, or being circumcised with a rock, we will go to ridiculous lengths to assert our masculinity.

And we wonder why women roll their eyes at us.

Text by Neil Griffin / Pictures by Local Newspapper “A Critica Manaus”

Click here to watch a great video of the Satere-Mawe Initiation!

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Native Amazonian Mask

Native Amazonian Mask


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Who am I?

Share our Story

Who am I?

Native Amazonian Mask

Native Amazonian Mask

                                                                                                            My name is Caramuru (pronounced Kaira moo roo).
I have traveled from my Jungle to the United States in order to tell my history and stories from the place I was born.
I am an iconic fella, born in the jungles of The Amazon. I was just a thought in my creator’s imagination until he brought me to life through his hands and with gifts from nature.
I am very grateful for all that!
I am very famous now and have many brothers and sisters living throughout the world.  I just received news that some of my brothers and sisters are hanging out in Europe. How cool is that?!
I am a very complex being. My core is made from wood, that has been carved by amazing native hands. My red eyes are like fire and are from Tento seeds. My face is adorned with more Tento seeds, Acai seeds and fish bones.
What about my head adornment! They are fish scales from the largest Amazonian fish called “Arapaima gigas”, the famous Pirarucu of The Amazon. The natives in my jungle have been catching them for thousands of years and the meat tastes wonderful.  Did you know you can use the scales to file your finger nails?
And then, he found me some flowing hair that is a fiber from our local palm trees. The natural gold color shines in the Amazon Sunrise and is very strong when braided. I like it so very much! It makes me look so regal.
Well, since I do like to talk, I could not have gotten better teeth the those from a “Piranha” fish. Yeah, a real Piranha.  That in itself is a long story, but don’t they look great?
Like I said, I am a true Amazonian and have lots to talk about. If you have questions about me or my life’s path or my friends in the Amazon, drop me a line. I love to talk and will be happy to share some curiosities and real facts from my jungle. There’s so much I want to tell, I will be so busy preparing for my next letter.
Keep an eye on my page, “Caramuru’s Corner” with real stories from the Amazon Jungle! Next, I will tell about my friends from the tribe “SATERÊ-MAWÉ”. (pronounced Sah té ré mah wé)
Tchau…(Amazonian for Good Bye)

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