Rites of Passage

By Gayne C. Young

Hey! Remember that time you had to wear a glove fashioned from dozens of angry bullet ants hell bent on painfully stinging you into the afterlife in order to prove yourself a man?

Of course, you don’t.

This because Western society is almost completely void of rites of passage that signify a boy becoming a man. Sure, there are some religious ceremonies that denote this change but none of these require the three phases that sociologist have recognized as constituting a rite of passage. These three phases are separation, transition, and re-incorporation.

Separation involves the boy seeking to become a man to separate from or leave his former life. Think, heading out of the village and into the jungle to purge the childish ways from your life. The transition phase is where the boy learns the way of the man and or goes through a ceremony that, more likely than not, involves massive pain and endurance – more on that in a minute.  Re-incorporation sees the new man introduced to the community in which he was last seen as a boy.

One of the most cringeworthy rite of passage that I’ve ever heard of is performed by the Sateré-Mawé peoples of the Amazon. The ceremony begins with the blowing of a ceremonial horn that calls forward boys as young as 12 years old to begin their passage to manhood. The boys venture into the rainforest where they collect dozens upon dozens of Paraponera clavata, more commonly referred to as bullet ants. The collected ants are then sedated by the tribal Medicine Man by pouring them into a liquid herbal solution that renders them unconscious for roughly an hour. The knocked out ants are then woven into a pair of gloves crafted from leaves, with their stingers pointing inward. Each glove contains dozens of ants. Once the ants wake up, the ceremony begins. Prospects must wear the gloves for upwards of five minutes. The ants don’t care for being collected, drugged, woven into a glove, or a having a human hand brush up against them and retaliate by stinging the wearer’s hands repeatedly. The prospect is led in song and dance during the ordeal but this does little to take his mind of the fact that he is getting repeatedly nailed by insects whose sting is roughly 60 times as painful as that of a bee sting and is widely regarded being as bad as being shot – thus the name, bullet ants. The ant’s venom is so toxic that it leads to muscle paralysis, disorientation, and hallucinations that last for hours. Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time pain endurance race. Rather it as a marathon of agony as prospects must don the gloves 20 times to pass the initiation. Those that make it through the ordeal are considered adults and proven as warriors who can handle any struggle life throws their way.

I know of absolutely no one who had to endure something like this to become a man.

But then again I don’t know anyone who had to go through any rite of passage to become a man.

Maybe I don’t know any real men.

Myself included.

From the FE Films Archive

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