October 4, 2010
Dear Bug Man,
I’m happy to respond to your inquiry about the Giant Metallic Ceiba Borer and how it’s elytra is used in Shuar jewelry.
Although it is true that I spent several weeks in a remote Shuar village in Ecuador, I am not an expert on the beetles of the Amazon. I can, however, attest to the great variety and quantity of bugs and beetles in the area, as well as the Shuar’s use of beetles to make decorative ornaments.
I was in Ecuador to make a documentary about headhunting– a complex ritual that had been outlawed many years before I visited the Amazon (although many of the elders were able to clearly describe the practice from memory). The morning I took leave of the village, I traded my rain jacket and rubber boots for several wonderful handmade objects from local villagers, including three beautiful necklaces.
I am attaching a close view of one of the necklaces, which is made of beetle shells, as well as various seeds, bones and claws. I’m not sure if these are the same beetles you are researching, but I thought the necklace might be of interest to your readers.
Regarding Shuar food, I didn’t intentionally eat any beetles during my time in the Amazon jungle, but I did swallow a few bugs accidentally. I also found many large beetles in my sleeping bag before I learned that I should keep it in a giant plastic bag until I was ready for bed. Finally, I had part of an Amazonian bug (unidentified) removed from my ear a few weeks after I returned from my trip.
I didn’t eat Sunday dinner in Ecuador, but I enjoyed a number of festive communal meals that I believe served a similar function — to join in celebration of friends and family through a good meal. The Shuar are extremely hospitable and prepared many wonderful dishes for the crew. Our most delicious and memorable meal consisted of guinea pig steamed in large, fragrant leaves in the ashes of a fire pit. Some of the more squeamish members of our team preferred to refer to the meat as “chicken”, despite the fact that there was a hut that housed at least thirty guinea pigs near the kitchen facilities. We also drank chicha, a highly viscous drink made of fermented yucca. To make chicha, the women of the village collect the yucca root, chew pieces of the yucca until it has the consistency of a fibrous paste and then spit it into large buckets. The saliva begins the fermentation process that creates the alcohol content of chicha. It is still used as a ceremonial drink to welcome visitors. Chica tastes vaguely like beer and is rather pleasant if you don’t mind the fact that it’s two main ingredients are yucca and human saliva. After a few days in the Amazon, I liked drinking chicha.
Sunday dinner or not, I enjoyed good food, good drink (at least drink with alcohol content) and good company while visiting the Shuar– that says “Sunday Dinner” to me!
Dear Susan Lutz,
Thank you so much for your response to our query. The beetle parts on your lovely necklace appear to be the heads of Scarab Beetles, though we are not certain of the species. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to contribute an identification. There are several metallic green species in North America, including the Emerald Euphoria pictured on BugGuide and the Figeater from our own archives. Though you were unable to provide any additional information on the Giant Metallic Ceiba Borer, we are certain our readership will be enthralled with your personal account of your Amazon exploits as well as the artifact you have illustrating the decorative use of insects by the indigenous people of the Amazon.