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The SHRUNKEN HEAD | HISTORY

The shrinking of heads is now banned and the ones you see are only replicas! The replicas are of an animal product and some shops such as antiques shops, do sell replicas. I have now came across two Shrunken Heads and both of these were from the Barnsleys antiques shop located in Barnsley, UK and they are only displayed as replicas.

Anyone claiming to have one can actually be reported because the procedure of how it is gathered and shrinked is quite horrific.

THE HISTORY

Headhunting is something that many cultures all over the world have practiced. Many cultures displayed heads of their dead enemies around their waists, on sticks as a word of warning to oncoming enemies and used them also to represent a gathering of celebration. Despite head hunting not being an uncommon practice to many, the shrinking of a human head is one that was unique to the Jivaro Indians of Ecuador and Peru. How was it done The head would be removed at the battle by cutting the skin at the extreme base of the neck, just above the clavicles and in a ‘v’ shape at the point between the nipples. A hair band or vine would then be fed through the open mouth allowing the warrior to carry it homeAn incision would be made up the back of the neck in order to peel the flesh from the skull. The skull would be then removed and thrown away. Red seeds are places in the eyes and they are sewn shut and the mouth closed by passing small, sharp palm pegs through the lips. The skin would then be boiled and left to simmer for about an hour to two hours. The timing of this had to be just right as too short of a time would result in the head not shrinking properly, while leaving the head too long would cause the hair remaining to fall out. When this processed was finished the head would be reduced by two-thirds of its original size and would have a rubbery texture to it. The skin was then turned inside out and any remaining flesh scraped away.

The head would be dried to continue it to shrink, small rocks heated were used to fill the head and when the head became too small for the stones, heated sand was used instead. Heated rocks would be placed outside the head to maintain the features. This process could last up to several days.

The Pegs through the lips were then removed and replaced with dangling cotton cords, Ash would be rubbed into the skin and then the head would be hung over a fire to allow it to dry and hardened.The head would then be attached to a cord through the scalp and then the warrior would be able to place it around their neck. A celebration and feast where the warrior would wear the shrunken heads would then be held. So overall pretty gruesome right?

So why did they do this…

well, Jivaro warfare was motivated by revenge, rather than territorial. Raids on enemy settlements were performed to avenge slain relatives. Headhunting was thought to appease the spirits of slain ancestors. It was believed that by shrinking the head, it would paralyze the spirit of their enemy and prevent any revenge. It was also believed that it would allow the victim’s strength to be passed on to those who had killed them. By the 19th century, tales of the Shrunken heads reached western cultures, which created a demand for them as a morbid curiosity. Of course, during this time the shrinking of heads was banned but the Jivaro tradition continued and today replicas of shrunken heads are made. These are clearly marked as replicas and are made from animal products.  

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