The History of Tsantsa


Introduction to the Jivaro Indian

Although there were many headhunting cultures throughout the world, only one group was known for ancient practice of shrinking human heads (tsantsa). They were called the Jivaro clan who lived deep in the Ecuadorian, and neighboring Peruvian Amazon. The Jivaros are one of the most primitive societies that have caught the attention of the Western world because of their unusual customs.

The Jivaroan tribes are comprised of four sub-tribes or dialect groups known to inhabit the tropical forest of the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon. The AShuar, Aguaruna, Huambisa, and the Shuar. Of these, the Shuar, are most commonly referred to when speaking of the Jivaro Indians. The Shuar have achieved their notoriety through their customary practice of head-shrinking.

The Jivaros are the only tribe known to have successfully revolted against the Spanish Empire and to have been able to thwart all subsequent attempts by the Spaniards to conquer them. They have withstood armies of gold-seeking Incas and defied the brovado of the early conquistadors. The Jivaro Indians are known to be an intensely warlike group, tremendously protective of their freedom and unwilling to subordinate themselves to other authorities.

The Jivaro Indians have a reputation for their fierceness which distinguishes them from their counterparts based on the savageness directed toward their enemies. Early Spanish chronicles relate that in the year 1599, the Jivaros banded together and killed 25,000 white people in raids on two settlements. In particular, the massacre of the Logrono stands out as particularly ruthless. The attack was instigated over the natives being taxed in their gold-trade. After uncovering the unscrupulous practices of the visiting governor, molten gold was later poured down his throat until his bowels burst. Following his execution, the remaining Spaniards were killed along with the older women and children. The younger useful women were taken as prisoners to join the clan. The settlement itself was raided and burned to the ground. From this point onward, the Jivaro Indians remained unconquered despite the fact that they inhabited one of the richest regions in South America for gold deposits. The Jivaro's fierce fighting reputation and head-shrinking practice continued to discourage outsiders from entering their territories.

 

The National Geographic Magazine

Indian Headhunters of the Interior:

H.E Anthony, October 1921, pgs 328-333

 

 

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