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Genuine Tsantsa Shrunken Head
A real Amazonian Shrunken Head
Sewing the mouth shut on a real
Amazonian Shrunken Head
The Jivaro are a South American tribe of people who live on the slopes of the Andes
mountains in northern Peru and south east Ecuador. The Jivaro (from the Spanish Jibaro)
name themselves 'Shuara'. They are hunter gatherers, supplemented by forest agriculture.
They are warlike people and are forced to protect their people from neighbouring
tribes. When a person from an opposing group is murdered, both the killer and the
victim go through an elaborate protection ceremony. The killer has to go through
a purification process whilst the victim is put through its own process of becoming
a "shrunken head."
First the head of the corpse is removed. Then, after some incisions, the skull is removed through its neck. The facial skin and scalp is then dipped into boiling water 3 times then boiled. After the heating process the head is left to dry in the sun. Then the ears are removed and the eyes and mouth sewn shut. The head is then put through another drying process using hot pebbles and sand to melt human fat inside the head which shrinks the size of the head and discolours it. This shrinks the head to the size of an apple. The reconstructing process then begins, the neck is sewn and the head stuffed with dry organic material. The Jivaros believe that the sewing of the eyes and lips traps the spirit of the victim inside and stops him escaping and haunting the warrior. This is "Tsantsa". The warrior then accepts the shrunken head as a trophy which to the warriors represents good luck, bravery & valour.
In the late 1950s, 60s & 70s, realistic looking rubber shrunken heads became popular vehicle accessories amongst hot rodders. They were hung from the rear view mirrors of their cars. Now the shrunken head is back, a new trend begins and you don’t have to be a head-