From Boyhood to Manhood

In the middle of the Brazilian Amazon lives the Satere-Mawe tribe. To become a man in the Satere-Mawe, a boy must stick his hands in a pair of gloves woven with bullet ants and withstand their stings for 10 minutes without making a noise.

According to the Schmidt Sting Index, the bullet ant has the most painful sting in the ant world. It’s described as “waves of throbbing, all consuming pain” that continues for over 24 hours.

And that’s just from one ant. Imagine slipping on a glove full.

To make the gloves, the tribesmen knock out the bullet ants with a natural sedative, and while the ants are docile, the elders proceed to make this manhood making device by weaving the ants into gloves made of leaves with the ants’ stingers facing inwards.

When the ants regain consciousness, the boy puts the gloves on and faces 10 minutes of manhood initiation. The abundant amount of venom the boy gets during his ‘Manhood in a Mitten’ ceremony will temporarily paralyze his arms and leaves him shaking uncontrollably for days.

According to the people, it’s a test of endurance and fortitude that’s necessary to be an effective warrior for the tribe.

Watch it in action:

A few months ago I was in a men’s Bible study and the question was asked, “When did you know you were a man?” Out of the 10 guys in the room, nobody had a good answer from when they crossed the threshold from boyhood to manhood. If someone were to ask you that question, how would you respond?

Would it be when your voice began to crack?

Kissed a girl for the first time?

Got into a fist fight?

That time you stuck your hands into those gloves filled with angry ants?

As a result of our society’s lack of defining when a boy becomes a man, we’re seeing a generation of men still being boys and the results of that are, and will continue to be, devastating for everyone.

There are a lot of cultures that understand the importance of putting a stake in the ground for a young man to know when he’s crossing over. Having just returned from Israel and seeing it first hand, one of those is the Jewish community and their bar Mitzvah celebration.

Reaching the age of bar Mitzvah (13 years old) signifies becoming a full-fledged member of the Jewish community with the responsibilities that come with it. These include moral responsibility for own actions, eligibility to be called to read from the Torah, possession of personal property, may be legally married according to Jewish law, must follow the 613 laws of the Torah and may testify as a witness in a Beth Din (Rabbinical court) case.

When a boy turns 13 and has his bar Mitzvah, it’s a big deal. After the celebration, it leaves no doubt that the young boy has transitioned into a young man. We were at the Western Wall (also known as the Weeping Wall) when we saw one of these ceremonies commenced. It starts with the boy being ushered in with music and dancing. He was then led to the wall where the scrolls are kept in a special container. He then removes a scroll, which has a portion of the Old Testament written on it, and for the first time, he reads aloud in public from the Torah.




This ceremony solidifies in the mind of the boy that he has now changed over into manhood.

My oldest son turned 11 on Monday. I’m thinking this gives me two more years to be coming up with an idea for a ceremony, a defining moment, something that communicates to him that he is making the conversion from boyhood to manhood.

If you have an older son whom you’ve never officially initiated into manhood, you still should do it. Every son, no matter how old or how much “success” they’ve had or how much confidence we think they own, needs to hear from his father that he is a man. I recently watched this point come to life in this interview with Michael Phelps that shows just how important a dad is, even to someone who from a world’s perspective has it all together.

If you have a son who is still at home and young enough for this type of ceremony, let me encourage you to begin researching and planning on what you might do to help your son know he is passing from boyhood to manhood. Here are a few places you can begin to get ideas:

Passport 2 Identity:

Manhood Journey:

Raising a Modern Day Knight:

Robert Lewis is the author of Raising a Modern Day Knight but also has this series with Focus on the Family:

Do some research of your own and find something that works with your personality and your son’s personality. It doesn’t have to follow one specific set of guidelines. But do something! Giving your son this line in the sand experience will do more to build his confidence as he heads into manhood than anything else you can do for him.


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