OCTOBER 1921, pgs. 328-333
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE
OVER TRAIL AND THROUGH JUNGLE
Indian Head-Hunters of the Interior:
An Interesting Study in the South American Republic By H.E. Anthony
Ecuador is a land of great
interest to the Northerner, whether he be a scientist or layman;
or whether his inclinations lead him to a study of peoples,
their customs and traditions, or to the enjoyment of the natural
features of the country- the birds, the mammals, the magnificent
forests and lofty mountains.
This republic occupies a unique
geographical position, astride the Equator, where it extends
approximately from one degree thirty minutes north latitude
to almost 5 degrees south latitude. Within this comparative
short distance are included some of the grandest of the Andean
peaks and a multitude of mighty ranges and deep canons.
On the west coast, Ecuador
holds a strategic position in regard to the Humboldt Current,
that chill invader from southern seas, for it is at this point
that the current sheers off to the westward and its influence
upon the winds and the climatic conditions of South America
The eastern boundaries of the
republic lie across Amazonian drainage, and cut the Napo, the
Pastaza, and the Paute, all affluents of the worldıs largest
The topography is extremely
mountainous. Although there are restricted plains in western
Ecuador, the greater part of the republic lies along the Andes
and their foothills, so that level areas of any great extent
are seldom encountered.
The drainage of the country
includes a number of large rivers flowing to the eastward, as
well as several important western-flowing streams.
Except for a narrow, coastal
strip, Ecuador receives abundant rainfall. The year is divided
into two seasons-the dry season, and the wet or so called rainy
season. The rains generally begin in December or January and
last until May or June, the balance of the year having only
a scanty rainfall.
In some localities there is
a deviation from this order, and on the eastern slopes of the
Andes, there are heavy rains in every month of the year. The
annual rainfall in some parts of the Oriente may reach as high
as 150-200 inches.
ECUADOR JIVAROS ARE HEAD-HUNTING
The population of Ecuador is made
up of three distinct elements. Most of the educated, upper class
are of Spanish descent and all of the political offices are filled
by men of this type. The great bulk of the population, however,
is Indian, the Quichuas, who are themselves the descendants of
The third element of the Ecuadorean
population comprises the wild and savage Indian tribes of the
Oriente, typified by the Jivaro or head-hunters. These latter
Indians, while nominally under the government of Quito, are
so far removed by the inaccessibility of their home territory
that Ecuadorean laws rest lightly upon them, and they are in
many respects as primitive today as when America was discovered.
It is to the purely American
elements of the population that one looks for strange customs
of interest to the northern visitor, and the Indians do not
prove disappointing in this respect.
The Indians of the Oriente
are much more savage, and uncivilized than their brothren of
the western Andes, the Quichuas. The Jivaros come into contact
with the whites occasionally, since the country they inhabit
is very inhospitable in its climate, its dense, trackless jungles,
and to a certain extent in its human population as well. They
live in scattered communities along the tributaries of the Rio
Napo and the Rio Paute, seldom venturing very far up on the
slopes of eastern Andes, but remaining below an elevation of
WARRIORS ACQUIRE THEIR WIVES
AS SPOILS OF WAR
The Jivaro wage a constant warfare
among themselves for which polygamy is the direct cause. We were
told that when a girl arrives at the marriageable age, about 12-14
years, she is given in marriage by her father to some friend,
but most of the wives are gained by the killing of an enemy and
the confiscation of the women as the spoils of war. A man may
have from 5-8 wives.
The warfare may be against
a member of a neighboring tribe or against a fellow Jivaro living
at some distance. The women and children of the slain man are
adopted into the household of the victor, where they become
members of the family and are treated in the same manner as
the immediate family, not as slaves.
These Indians have a pseudo-religion
which is based on a belief in being called by the Spaniards,
el diablo, the devil. He has the attributes of a super Jivaro,
is all powerful in everything the under takes, but is not particularly
addicted to evil for its own sake.
No important project is undertaken
without first consulting el diablo and getting his views. The
Jivaros do not appear to have a highly developed priestly class
and any man may enter into consultation with him. To do this
it is necessary to retire to the seclusion some spot remote
from the rest of the Jivaro, and here the would-be communicant
prepares himself for the ordeal by dinking a quantity of a certain
extract made from a particular variety of bark. The fluid is
dark, about the colour of coffee, and contains some very powerful
narcotic principle, for it produces a stupor and hallucinations
of a different type but in a way comparable to the result of
opium or hemp.
While under the influence of
this drink, which may be for 4-5 hours, the Jivaro imagines
that the devil comes to him and discusses whatever matter is
a foot. Inasmuch as the mind of the man is filled with his plans
when he takes this narcotic, it is but natural that his disordered
reason concocts a fanciful dialogue and arrives at a confirmation
of what he really believed when he first came.
If the devil has properly coached
his client and the raid is eminently successful, the hut of
the victim is surrounded, and when the latter steps out of the
door he receives at close range the contents of all the guns
in the party. The women and children are hastily captured and
the raiders seek the safety of their own neighborhood, with
the reasonable assurance that sooner or later they will be raided
in a like manner by relatives of the slain man.
PREPARING A VICTIMS HEAD AS
A LASTING TROPHY
The head of the victim is cut off,
and later, in the seclusion of his hut, the victor prepares it
into a lasting war trophy, attaching to it the significance which
the North American attached to scalps. The skin is opened up from
the base of the neck to the crown, and the skull is removed entire,
leaving only the soft, pliant skin.
The skin is now dipped into
a vegetable extract which dyes it a blue-black and probably
has some action preservative, and then the cut skin is sewed
up along the neck to restore the head to its original form.
The cavity is filled with hot
sand or pebbles, after which the head is constantly turned and
moved, so that the drying goes on uniformly. When the sand has
cooled, hot sand takes its place, and this process may last
for several days before the head is completely cured.
Shrinking to an unbelievable
degree takes place, but it is so regulated that the features
retain their individuality to a great extent, and the finished
head is about the size of a manıs fist.
The lips have been sewed shut
with a series of long cotton cords, the exact pattern of this
stitching varying with the locality and seeming to have some
Within a short time after the
preparation of a head, generally within a month, the victor
celebrates the event by a ceremonial dance at which there is
an orgy of wild drinking. After this dance it may be possible
to buy the head from the Jivaro, if his interest can be aroused
in an object whose value he understands and appreciates, such
as the musket.
SOUVENIR CRAZE STIMULATED HEAD-HUNTING
Because of the interest aroused
in the outside world by tales concerning these head-hunters, there
has been in the past a lively trade in human heads. The Jivaros,
learning that there was a demand which could be capitalized into
muskets, quickly gave a ready response; so that it became necessary
for the Ecuadorean Government strictly to forbid the traffic in
Tales are told of the results
of this practice which are not without a certain grim irony.
There is a story, for example, of a red-headed white man who
went into the interior on a trip of exploration charged with
the commission of bringing out a dried and shrunken head. It
was months after he had departed that a shrunken-head came out,
by devious channels, from the Oriente, but the head had red
hair. Perhaps a red-haired head brought the price of 2 muskets;
who could tell?
Contrary to our expectations,
after hearing stories of the Jivaro(and to the average Ecuadorean
the word Jivaro is synonymous with violent death and all manner
of disagreeable things), we found then a good natured people
and very friendly to us.
Like the Quichuas, they are
below medium height, but with a splendid chest development and
with a rather pleasing cast of countenance. The men wear their
hair long, but often cut it away to form bangs in front, and
it is ornamented with tufts of bright red and yellow toucan
feathers on the crown and the base of the neck.
The men wear slender tubes
of bamboo thrust through the lobes of the ears and the women
often have a short piece of cane projecting straight out from
the lower lip.
FAITHLESS WIVES RECEIVE DIRE
On their own trails, the Jivaro
costume could scarcely be considered a burden to the wearer, but
when these Indians visit the border settlements they wear a one-piece
garment consisting of a cotton cloth, which they weave themselves,
caught up around the waist.
The men we saw appeared to
treat their wives kindly and showed a consideration for their
wishes in minor matters. If a wife is detected in any breach
of infidelity, however, she is subject to a terrific course
For the first offense the punishment
consists of throwing the erring woman to the ground, holding
her there, and cutting down on to the crown of her head with
a large machete, or brush knife. The man makes a great many
cuts, which are at an angle to one another, so that the scalp
is literally hacked into small pieces and all the hair id lost.
Should this not prove sufficient
to inculcate fidelity, the second offense results in the womanıs
being pinned to the earth by a long, iron-pointed lance, which
is thrust deep into the ground through the fleshy parts of both
legs. Given food, water and sufficient care to prevent death,
the offender is left in this position for days, even for a period
as long as three weeks.
For the third offense the punishment
is death outright.
BLOW-GUNS AND POISONED ARROWS
ARE THE NATIVE WEAPONS
As hunters and woodsmen the Jivaros
are unsurpassed. Observers of the keenest sort, endowed with that
natural instinct of the savage knowing direction, they hunt and
roam over the vast unbroken stretches of jungle, following the
paths made by wild animals or slipping through ore open regions
regardless of trails, calling monkeys down the green hillsides
by wonderful imitations of their calls, and sleeping at night.
Like beasts themselves, where darkness overtakes them.
They hunt largely with the
blow-gun, in the use of which they are peculiarly adept. The
missiles for these weapons, which are sometimes twelve feet
or more in length, are sun-baked balls of clay for the smaller
game and poisoned arrows of cane for larger animals.
The poison is apparently a
form of curare and is obtained from traders farther down on
Amozonian waters. It is very potent, death resulting in a few
minutes after an animal has been struck; but it does not spoil
the game for consumption.
Salt is said to be an antidote,
if placed in the mouth of the stricken animal, and monkeys are
sometimes taken alive in this manner, the Jivaro hurrying up
to administer the panacea when the quarry falls from the limb
in a stupor.
BARBASCO USED AS POISON
Another poison which is extensively
employed by the Jivaros is barbasco, a jungle vine or creeper,
which is put into the rivers to secure fish. A great pile of the
plant is beaten up on the rocks until it is a pulp, and after
the Indians have stationed themselves down-stream some of their
number throw 2-3 hundred pounds of mash into the river and the
fishing begins. The fish are killed and float down, belly up,
to be gathered in by the Jivaros, who see them as they pass.
So potent is this juice that
large streams may be poisoned by this relatively small amount
of barbasco and under favorable circumstances fish are stricken
for a distance of three miles down-stream.