Guarana and bullet ants

What do bullet ants and guarana have in common? The Sateré-Mawé people of Brazil.

AnitaFortis / CC BY-SA

There are not many Sateré-Mawé in the world – perhaps fourteen thousand in all at the moment. Nevertheless, they have left their mark on the world in two ways: the domestication of guarana, and the nearly unbearable torture of bullet ants. As far as I know, these two don’t have anything in common except for the fact that they both came from the Sateré-Mawé.

First, they are directly responsible for thousands of gross-tasting energy drinks. Guarana, one of only a few natural sources of caffeine, was first domesticated by the Sateré-Mawé to use in herbal tea. It didn’t make it to soda / soft drink until the 1920s. Attempts were made to extract guarana for commercial purposes in 1905, culminating in the release of the Guaraná Antarctica drink in 1921.

Second, they are famous for an initiation ritual in which bullet ants are sown into a glove, which is then worn for ten minutes while the ants just sting the daylights out of the poor kid’s hand. Bullet ants, it is worth mentioning, have some of the most painful stings known to humankind, so this is an especially hardcore rite. You can see it here, if you really must:

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