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Matt Norman

Ant attacks

Posted from: Parana
It's very humid already today and spent this morning with a group of villagers on the trail in the search of tucandeira ants. These are to be used in a ceremony later today when the men of the village go through a painful ritual. The ants are also nicknamed ‘bullet’ ants because of their painful sting. The braver the warrior, the more stings he will endure, in the more sensitive body places. Bruce has been invited to take part so about 20 of us are walking in a line through the jungle on this most unusual of hunts. It’s a real family event with elders, women and kids joining the group.

After a few false alarms a young man shouts excitedly. He is digging next to a tree and forces a stick down into the hole and pulls it out to have a large tucandeira ant emerge on it. He then quickly puts it into a small pot and seals the lid. There is lots of laughter, as they know how much the stings hurt. This collecting and finding new nests goes on for a couple of hours until they have collected about 20 in the pot. At one point I’m kneeling on the ground filming when a man pulls me up and brushes my back as a large tucandeira had crawled up my trouser leg and is about to disappear down the back of my trousers. I shook his hand warmly as he undoubtedly saved me from a few loud screams.

We make our way back towards the village and the group stops. Then begins the delicate process of splintering the end of a narrow small stick and opening up the end like a pair of chopsticks and very carefully trapping an ant around the midriff between it. The ant is left stuck there wriggling its legs in the air. The sticks, now with angry ants attached to the ends, will later be used to inflict the stings on the volunteers. It was a bizarre sight as the ant-holding sticks were popped in the ground.

By now Bruce was pretty nervous, as on a previous expedition he had developed a swelling reaction to wasp venom, so was busy on the sat phone to the doctor in the UK to check if he was OK to take part. It was OK’d, on condition a full med kit including anaphylactic shock kit would be on hand just in case.

The warriors lined up and pointed at places on their bodies for red dots to be painted in the places that they would later wish to be stung. These included between the knuckles, forehead, ears, ankles and one brave fellow even pointed to the end of his nose. Bruce seemed very relieved to have one dot painted on each arm. Then everyone (including Pete, Rob and I as we were filming) had their faces painted with patterns of bright red paint and the group paraded back to the long house for some dancing. The ants were left wriggling on the sticks, wedged into the longhouse roof till the evening - by then they would be super angry and ready for the ceremony.


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