Becoming an Adult: Bullet Ants Versus a Birthday

Topics: Adulthood

Different cultures and nations all over the globe have their own unique traditions and rituals exclusive to their people. Some are taken more seriously and still practiced today while others have either become obsolete or are much less that of a physical ceremony. The transition from child to adult in the United States of America definitely differs from that of the Saterè-Mawè tribe in several ways, even though both are important to each people group. The Saterè-Mawè tribe is a native tribe who live deep in the central Amazons and are retrospectively less cultured and civilized than most nations today.

For a boy to be considered a man there, a long and excruciating process is required. Every member in the tribe takes the ritualistic ceremony extremely seriously, and the tribe believes that a young boy’s success in this trial will evaluate his preparedness to take on the rigors of adulthood. In America, the switch from child to adult is a mere matter of a birthday.

However, adulthood is defined more as a feeling than an age in the United States. The point where one becomes and is recognized as an adult in the Saterè-Mawè tribe and in the United States is entirely different, both physically and psychosomatically.

A boy born into the Saterè-Mawè tribe, as young as the age of twelve, must undergo an eleven hour ceremony with an activity that encompasses excruciating pain all for the sake of proving he is ready to accept the responsibilities of manhood and is eligible to be a warrior for his tribe.

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On the day of the boy’s ceremony, the young man must first go into the woods and gather the Paraponera clavatas, which are ants of a certain species native to the rainforests within most of South America (“Species: Paraponera clavata,” These ants have the most painful sting in the entire animal kingdom, with some people even claiming their sting is similar to the pain felt when shot by a gun, hence their more commonly known name, “Bullet Ant” (“Could You Pass the Bullet Ant Test?” National Geographic). The Bullet Ants range in size, but most are around an inch in length with thick black bodies. The Bullet Ant’s name spreads fear into the hearts of anyone educated about them, and rightfully so, because the searing pain felt from the sting is not the only daunting characteristic about them. Their sting is venomous which causes extreme effects that may last as long as several hours. These effects include cold sweats, temporary paralysis, discoloration of affected limbs, hallucinations, loss of consciousness, and in extreme cases, even death. Dr. Backshall described the pain like this: ‘With a bullet ant sting, the pain is throughout your whole body, you start shaking. You start sweating… It goes through your whole body… Your heart rate goes up, and if you have quite a few of them, you will be passing in and out of consciousness. There will be nothing in your world apart from pain for at least three or four hours (“The Bullet Ant Sting May Be the Worst Pain Known to Man, and It Can Also Make You Feel Great,””

After the young initiates harvest the ants carefully, the ants are drugged by being soaked in an herbal mixture, which puts them in a stupor for the purpose of handling them easier. The dazed and disoriented ants are then carefully inserted into special woven gloves, with their stingers facing inward. When the time has arrived for the ceremony to begin, hundreds of people gather to watch as the young boys step up to the pillory to receive the gloves. This ceremony starts for boys when they turn twelve years old, and most be repeated a total of twenty times. The amount of time the boys must keep their hands in the infested gloves increases every time, too, starting at a minimum of ten minutes. The tribe leaders will lead the boys in a song and dance, as a means of distraction from the agonizing pain. When the rite is all over and done, the youth becomes highly revered in his tribe, and is not longer seen as a boy, but a warrior. Published writer and anthropologist, Rachel Nuwer, quotes the chief of the tribe; “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” (“Cultures and Customs,”

Contrary to the intense ceremonial ritual of the Saterè-Mawè tribe, adulthood in the United State of America is much more simple, and commonly celebrated with a small party and some new responsibilities. It is an acknowledged fact across the United States that the age of eighteen signifies the age of a recognized adult. Reporter and Journalist, Jennifer Lai, says this is so “because that’s when people get to vote,” and it is true that voting in America is another opportunity that comes with adulthood (“Old Enough to Vote, Old Enough to Smoke?” So, turning eighteen means a whole new world of accountability, responsibility, and adventure for the new grownup. However, most people do not feel like they have reached that sense of maturity associated with adulthood until well past the age of eighteen. This could be so because the last part of the brain that understands rationality and consequences from actions does not finish developing until the age of twenty-five (“Understanding the Teen Brain,” According to a 2015 study, most people do not consider themselves “an adult” until the age of twenty-nine (“Study Reveals Most People Don’t Feel Like an Adult Until the Age of 29,”

Though, regardless of the legal recognition of one’s adulthood, most people would agree adulthood or maturity is reached at different ages and because of certain experiences depending on the individual, and it is much less a switch that becomes flipped on one’s eighteenth birthday. For example, when a sixteen-year-old receives his or her driver’s license, a sense of the freedom that comes with adulthood is felt. Similarly, when a person becomes a parent to a child, new responsibilities are bestowed on him or her because he or she is now responsible for another completely dependent life. These and more experiences like a first part-time job, graduating high school, and going off to college all contribute to one’s sense of adulthood in America, not necessarily the age of eighteen. Julie Beck, senior editor of The Atlantic, writes in an article, “Adulthood is a social construct. For that matter, so is childhood. But like all social constructs, they have real consequences. They determine who is legally responsible for their actions and who is not, what roles people are allowed to assume in society, how people view each other, and how they view themselves. But even in the realms where it should be easiest to define the difference—law, physical development—adulthood defies simplicity (“When Are You Really an Adult?”” So, even though adulthood is legally recognized at age eighteen, the time someone really possesses the maturity of an ideal adult is generally much later in life, and does not come from an age, but overtime as a result of lived experiences.

From the strange ceremony of ant-infested gloves to the eighteenth candle on a birthday cake, the transition of a child to an adult is a major deal for all people in the Saterè-Mawè tribe and in the United States of America, as well as the rest of the world. It is a new status recognized by society, and it comes with new responsibilities. The Saterè-Mawè tribe values bravery and believes that if a boy is able to undertake the pain of the natural predator, he is responsible enough to take on the responsibilities a mature adult and warrior have such as providing for his family and protecting the rest of the tribe. Adulthood in America is similar in that it also comes with more responsibility, but the actual process of becoming an adult is dissimilar entirely. Adulthood in America is officially the age of eighteen, but on an emotional and cognitive level, it is reached during different experiences within one’s life. So, even without a physical and dangerous ceremony, the achievement of adulthood is a great feat in America nonetheless.

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Becoming an Adult: Bullet Ants Versus a Birthday. (2022, Apr 23). Retrieved from

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