Nov 13

Sateré-Mawé Initiation

Amazon Rainforest, Brazil

Although one of Brazil’s twenty-six states and home to several large cities, Amazonas remains largely covered by the dense foliage of South America’s lush rainforest.  In the depths of the jungle, many native tribes still follow their traditional ways of life.  Largely undisturbed by outsiders for many years, these independent natives carry on ancient practices and rituals that have contributed to their survival amid the perils that constantly surround them.

One of the largest of these groups is the Sateré-Mawé, a tribe of roughly ten thousand members that inhabits the northern region of Amazonas.  Although the tribe lives in relative seclusion and has little contact with outsiders, the Mawé have allowed the rare visitor to document their unique lifestyle and traditions.  Unaffected by external influences, the Mawé people offer a window into the rich history of American Natives.  They are a living example of a what used to be a much more common way of life.


While perhaps most notable to those who initially encountered them for being the first to cultivate guarana, the Mawé people are not primarily concerned with agriculture.  Their culture values strength and courage, qualities needed to protect the tribe from hostile neighbors and natural predators, as well as to provide a steady supply of food for its members.  Mawé warriors and hunters ensure the well-being of the tribe in many regards, and they are highly revered.  As a result, young boys in the tribe are raised with the purpose of becoming warriors constantly at mind.

Joining the ranks of Mawé warriors, however, is not an easy undertaking.  In one of the tribe’s most sacred rituals, young men hoping to gain the status of their elders must show themselves capable of enduring the worst that the jungle has to offer.  They prove their worth by remaining calm, often entirely expressionless, while experiencing excruciating pain.

The Mawé test their young men’s strength against a natural predator: the ant.  Although it may not seem a formidable challenge to a foreigner, the Amazon Rainforest is home to a particularly venomous species of ant.  A single sting from Paraponera clavata, the ant of choice for Mawé initiations, is capable of causing hours of pain.  The species has been nicknamed the “bullet ant” because a sting is said (by some victims) to be as painful as being shot.  The powerful toxin used by the ant attacks and interferes with the nervous system, often causing uncontrollable shaking even after the waves of pain have ceased.  The effects of a single ant sting have been known to last days; the warrior hopefuls of the Mawé tribe, however, do not sustain just one sting.


In preparation for the initiation ceremony, bullet ants are sedated and harvested from the jungle.  While unconscious, the ants are woven into a pair of gloves made from leaves, with their stingers facing inward.  To be considered a man of the tribe, boys as young as twelve will thrust their hands into the gloves for a full five minutes (or longer), being stung the entire time.  The tribe leads the initiates in song and dance during the ordeal, but this distraction is their only relief.


When the gloves are removed, the ants’ venom continues acting for hours.  In addition to the pain, it can cause muscle paralysis, disorientation, and hallucinations for hours.  And while completing the ceremony earns the young men respect, they must wear the gloves a total of twenty times before being considered fully initiated as tribal warriors.


Sep 13


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The city of Rio de Janeiro (soon to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics) has gained international fame for the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) that overlooks the city and for its numerous, white-sand beaches.  However, just as unique as the city’s geographical features is the singular culture of its residents that has developed throughout Rio’s history.

Rio de Janeiro


Those who live in Rio de Janeiro (known as Cariocas in Portuguese) seize every opportunity to appreciate life.  In a city known for its beaches, the culture has become greatly oriented around life at the shore.  Its residents frequent the city’s beaches and, consequently, a large portion of Rio’s social scene takes place on the sand.  Brazil is also home to many fervent soccer (futebol) fans, and naturally the game has become a favorite pastime for Brazilians (including Cariocas).

Unfortunately, when the Cariocas took their favorite sport to the beach with them, problems arose.  Stray balls and rough play began upsetting an increasing number of beach-goers, tourists and native Cariocas alike.  Eventually, the sport was banned from all public beaches, disappointing many throughout Rio de Janeiro.

For those Cariocas who still wanted to hone their soccer skills without having to leave the beach, Octavio de Moraes presented a unique solution.  In 1965, Moraes brought a new sport to one of Rio’s most famous beaches: Copacabana.  Footvolley (futevôlei), a combination of soccer (called football outside of the United States) and volleyball, gained immediate popularity.  It quickly spread throughout the city, helping soccer players avoid the strictly enforced ban by adding a twist to their favorite sport.  By 1970, footvolley was being played in multiple cities throughout Brazil and beginning to spread beyond the country’s borders.

As you may have gathered, footvolley is played with a soccer ball on a beach-volleyball court.  Its rules are relatively simple.  Playing and scoring are governed by traditional volleyball rules, but players cannot use their hands.  This requires not only speed and agility, but also skill and accuracy when striking the ball.  Traditionally, games played between greatly skilled or professional soccer players were two-on-two in order to increase difficulty.  However, casual games are often played with larger groups.


The popularity of footvolley led to the creation of a professional league.  Official events were held primarily in Brazil until 2003, when the United States hosted an international competition.  The sport has since grown in many places around the world, especially where soccer is popular and beaches are plentiful.  Although it has a diverse group of international participants, the Footvolley World Cup (Mundial de Futevôlei) is often hosted in Brazil, where the sport was born.

Official footvolley matches are often designed for more aggressive play.  With lower nets and altered rules, fast-paced professional footvolley requires even greater skill than traditional play.  Nevertheless, the sport presents a distinct challenge in any form.  It is a unique application of soccer skills that also requires overall athleticism.  While still a growing sport, it is far from likely that those who have found footvolley will ever lose their taste for its one of a kind nature.


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