Amazing Shrunken Heads of the Amazonian Tribes!
Why did the Amazonian tribes shrink the heads of their enemies? While headhunting is a feature of countless societies, what made the Jivaroan tribes become the only to genuinely shrink the heads of their foes? Below we will explore how they made shrunken heads, why they did it, who they did it too, and where they are now!
How to Make Your Own Shrunken Head!
- You must abstain from eating certain foods, having sex, and hunting alone.
- Kill your enemy.
- Remove his head (only men, no women or children allowed).
- Cut deep into the skin at the base of the ear down to the neck on either side.
- Sever the tendons and muscles attaching the skin to the skull
- Separate the cartilage of the nose and ears and remove them.
- Remove the eyes.
- Insert your hand under the skin to loosen it from the skull.
- Remove the skull and jaw bone. They are no longer needed so discard them.
- Take care to keep the facial features recognizable.
- Insert wooden pegs into the lips to hold the mouth closed.
- Boil water in your pre-prepared ceremonial pot.
- Once boiled, insert the skin three separate times into the water.
- Now leave the skin to boil for 30 minutes, any longer and you may lose the hair and ruin your shrunken head.
- Remove the skin and allow it to dry, it should be around 1/3 the original size. Note, anything used in the process is now tainted and must be discarded.
- Once dried, stitch the eye lids, mouth, and initial cuts at the back of the neck, so that they are closed.
- You should now have a pouch that only opens at the neck.
- Insert hot rocks into the skin pouch, rolling them around to not scorch the interior. Hold the face against a large, flat, heated rock while you do this to “iron” out the wrinkles.
- As the skin pouch reduces in size, use smaller rocks internally, and when it is too small for that, use headed sand.
- Once it is the size of a large orange, or fist, you are done.
Disclaimer: Killing a fellow human being is morally and lawfully wrong, so don’t do it. No one wants to get their hands dirty with this grisly procedure anyway, just buy your Amazonian shrunken head from Amazon.com!
Who are the Jivaroan People
The Jivaroan are an ethnic category of about 5 separate tribes living in the north eastern reaches of the Amazon, along the head waters of the Maranon River. They have no centralized seat of power, but exist in small homesteads that are constantly moving, warring, or being exterminated by one another.
Despite the individual nature of each homestead, they all speak the same language and are a highly spiritual people. The Jivaroans follow a pantheistic belief, where all things, alive and inanimate, hold souls, and those souls can be collected to grant the owner power. This has led to an incredibly violent culture of killing, where the most powerful members of the tribe are those who kill the most, thus bearing the largest collection of souls.
They hold no priestly class in their society because all members can contact the spirit world directly, through the use of a psychedelic tea called natema to assist themselves.
The fierce nature of the Jivaroans cannot be underestimated, they are the only native people who successfully kept their independence from the Spanish. In 1599, outraged by the taxes and suppression from European settlement, The Jivaroan tribes revolted, sacking two Spanish cities and killing 25,000 people. Most gruesome of all, the Governor who was so obsessed with gaining gold from the region was captured by the tribes and forced to swallow molten gold until his intestines burst.
The Spirit of the Shrunken Head
The Jivaroans kept the heads of their enemies as part of a religious practise that endowed the owner with power over the dead. They believed the evil spirit of the deceased, a musaic, could come back to take revenge on the killer, unless he held the shrunken head. This links to why the eyes and mouth are stitched closed, it prevents the soul from seeing, and also from verbalizing revenge. Michael Harner explains the practice in his work, Jivaro Souls (1962),
“A person is not born with an arutam soul. Such a soul must be acquired, and in certain traditional ways. The acquisition of this type of soul is considered to be so important to an adult male’s survival that a boy’s parents do not expect him to live past puberty without one. By repeatedly killing, one can continually accumulate power through the replacement of old arutam souls with new ones. This “trade-in” mechanism is an important feature because, when a person has had the same arutam soul for four or five years, it tends to leave its sleeping possessor to wander nightly through the forest. Sooner or later, while it is thus drifting through the trees, another Jivaro will “steal” it. Accordingly, it is highly desirable to obtain a new soul before the old one begins nocturnal wanderings. This felt need encourages the individual to participate in a killing expedition every few years.”
Shrunken Head Economy
The Jivaroan tribes had always made shrunken heads as part of their religo-cultural beliefs, but never felt any kind of wealth could be associated with the artifacts. This rapidly changed when westerners made contact with the tribes. The explorers instantly became engrossed with the morbid heads, begging the tribesmen to trade. Deals were struck, one gun for one head, and the business began to boom. Increased numbers of high tech weapons fuelled the hunt for more heads, the term “head hunter” was coined, and the bloody process rapidly propelled its output.
Shrunken heads were shipped out of the South American jungles, fetching 1 British Pound per piece in 1910. By 1919 the price quadrupled and by the 1930’s, one head could be worth as much as $250 USD.
The trade was massacring the Jivaroan people and it wasn’t until the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments forbade the export of heads that any impact was made on the slaughter.
Where Are The Shrunken Heads Today?
The Jivaroan people shrunk heads all the way into the 1950’s and there are thousands of shrunken heads in existence around the world in museums and private collections. However, after the ban of their export, a huge void in the market was created, quickly being filled by the manufacture of fraudulent heads. Across the Peruvian and Ecuadorian border, artisans began by taking heads from corpses in morgues and shrinking them down, then using the heads of monkeys and sloths and leathers, and every other method imaginable. Anthropologist Kate Duncan wrote in her 1001 Curious Things (2001),
“It has been estimated that about 80 percent of the tsantsas in private and museum hands are fraudulent.”
Production of replica shrunken heads is also a lucrative trade, further diminishing the reputation of real shrunken heads.
Where Can I Get A Shrunken Head?
It might be a bit of a task to make your own shrunken head today, but they are still available. If you have the money to spend, you can obtain a genuine, human shrunken head from www.realshrunkenheads.com otherwise you can get some pretty good reproductions from nearly anywhere. Have a look for yourself below!