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Observations placeholder

Augustin de Saint-Hilaire - Malalis eating grubs



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Saint-Hilaire, Augustin F.C.P. de (1824) Histoire du Plantes les plus remarquables du  Bresil et du Paraguay.

When I was among the Malalis, in the province of Mines, they spoke much of a grub which they regarded as a delicious food, and which is called bicho de tacuara (bamboo- worm), because it is found in the stems of bamboos, but only when these bear flowers. Some Portugese who have lived among the Indians value these worms no less than the natives themselves; they melt them on the fire, forming them into an oily mass, and so preserve them for use in the preparation of food. The Malalis consider the head of the bicho de tacuara as a dangerous poison; but all agree in saying that this creature, dried and reduced to powder constitutes a powerful vulnerary (for the healing of wounds).

If one is to believe these Indians and the Portugese themselves it is not only for this use that the former preserve the bicho de tacuara. When strong emotion makes them sleepless, they swallow, they say, one of these worms dried, without the head but with the intestinal tube; and then they fall into a kind of ecstatic sleep, which often lasts more than a day, and similar to that experienced by the Orientals when they take opium in excess. They tell, on awakening, of marvellous dreams; they saw splendid forests, they ate delicious fruits, they killed without difficulty the most choice game; but these Malalis add that they take care to indulge only rarely in this debilitating kind of pleasure. I saw them only with the bicho de tacuara dried and without heads; but during a botanical trip that I made to Saint-Francois with my Botocudo, this young man found a great many of these grubs in flowering bamboos, and set about eating them in my presence. He broke open the creature and carefully removed the head and intestinal tube, and sucked out the soft whitish substance which remained in the skin. In spite of my repugnance, I followed the example of the young savage, and found, in this strange food, an extremely agreeable flavour which recalled that of the most delicate cream.

If then, as I can hardly doubt, the account of the Malalis is true, the narcotic property of  the bicho de tacuara resides solely in the intestinal tube, since the surrounding fat produces no ill effect. Be that as it may, I submitted to M. Latreille the description of the animal I had made, and this learned entomologist recognised it as a caterpillar.

The source of the experience

South American shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Eating grubs