Origin of the Shrunken-head Trade
By the end of the nineteenth
century, little was still known about the Jivaro Indian clans
in South America, except for their macabre practices of taking
the heads of their enemies. This practice intrigued travelers
and collectors and compelled them to visit these tribes to satisfy
The visits of the white man
helped revolutionize the Jivaro's methods of warfare, as they
began trading firearms and ammunition for shrunken human heads.
The Jivaros aware that a demand for their tsantsa
was developing, were quick to comply with the traders to satisfy
their own needs.
As more and more travelers engaged
in this gruesome trade, it soon became necessary for the Peruvian
and Ecuadorian governments to pass severe and expedient laws
prohibiting the traffic of human heads. The laws were established
to deter tourists and travelers who secured the tsantsa as curios
and had no concept that their trade was actually perpetuating
feuding and warfare between neighboring tribes. At one time
the Jivaros had demanded a firearm for each tsantsa, which allowed
him to continue their war against their enemies more successfully.
This destructive cycle was continuously reinforced as new heads
were acquired for further bartering.
In the 1930s heads were made
to order and sold for approximately $25.00.