As the white man began to infiltrate
the Jivaro region in the 1850s, spurred on by tales of the head-shrinking
practices of the Shuar tribes, a lively trade in human head trophies
began. Due to the macabre nature of the shrunken head, many "curio-hunters"
have sought out the tsantsa as collectibles, thus generating a
sizable business in the manufacture of counterfeit tsantsa.
and Counterfeit Shrunken-Heads
Imitation tsantsa are classified
under two categories, being either non-human or human but prepared
by someone other than the Jivaro tribesmen. As the most common
non-human fakes are often made out of goat or monkey skin, one
must pay particular attention to distinguishing between authentic
and replicas. Indications of counterfeit tsantsa are characterized
by looking for nasal hairs which is a notable distinction between
identifying authentic heads and non-human replicas. In addition
to this, it is also quite difficult to duplicate a shrunken
human ear. The ear should remain in its original form only smaller.
Fakes generally cannot match the intricate details of the human
ear. (see photo)
Counterfeit heads prepared by
someone other than the Jivaro Indians are usually, much more
skillfully prepared through the use of superior equipment, than
the actual work of the Jivaros.
Hoping to cash in on the sale
of imitation tsantsa, taxidermists are largely responsible for
the production of counterfeit trophies. Taxidermists were also
known for producing tsantsa by using corpses of the unclaimed
hospital dead and fraudulently obtained from morgues.
In order to identify genuine
shrunken heads, careful inspection is required. The following
illustrates the most common characteristics of how to distinguish
between authentic Jivaro shrunken heads and counterfeit shrunken
- The head is less thoroughly
shrunk and tends to exude a certain amount of oil
- The lips show no sign of
perforation which results from the "chonta-wood"
pins used by the Shuar during the preparation, as well as
the lips are sewn with light threads instead of a heavy cotton
- The top of the head is not
pierced for the suspending cord
- The facial hair has not been
singed off, or the skin polished ( G. E S. Turner. Counterfeit
Tsantsa in the Pitt Rivers Museum Man: A Record
of Anthropological Science 1944 p.57 )
Tourism is largely responsible
for the creation of the demand for shrunken heads, either human
or fake .
Listed below is a 1897 account
which details a counterfeit head-shrinking process as explained
by adventurer F.W Up De Graff :
It has come to the author's
attention that there is in Panama a man who makes a business
of preparing and shrinking heads, and who has even shrunken
two entire bodies, one of an adult, the other evidently of a
child; the body of the latter only ten by twelve inches. These
heads, human or otherwise, are much more skillfully prepared
than the legitimate work of the Jivaros. The slit in the legitimate
Jivaro head is drawn together with a very coarse fibre, while
the work of this expert is so neatly done that the incision
can hardly be noticed. The heads are those of white men, black
men, Chinese men and natives, probably selected from unclaimed
In Europe the author has
also run across these heads which evidently must have come
from the same source. In Panama, where tourists have created
a brisk demand for these uncouth curios, heads, either human
or monkey, are made to order or sold for $25.00 each.
( F.W Up de Graff p.283)
Remarkably, there are in existence
two shrunken human bodies at the Smithsonian National Museum
of the American Indian located in New York City, which have
been prepared by counterfeiters. These bodies are not however
on display due to the stringent laws which prohibit the exhibiting
of native human remains in federally funded institutions but
they do exist in their collection.