How to Prepare a Shrunken-Head
After an attack on the enemy,
the victim or victims were killed and immediately decapitated.
Sometimes the decapitation process occurred while the victim
was still alive.
The head is cut off below the
neck with a section of the skin from the chest and back is taken
with it. The killer removes his woven head-band and passes it
through the mouth and neck of the head and ties it over his
shoulder to facilitate a rapid retreat from the victim's camp.
Should the killer have no head band, the warrior will utilize
a section of vine. The head shrinking process occurred in the
With the immediate fighting
over, the warriors assemble back at agreed upon camps alongside
a river away from the enemy's territory. It is here that the
head shrinking process begins.
Now safe, the killer begins
to work on the head. A slit is made in the neck and up the back
of the head, allowing the skin and hair to be carefully peeled
from the skull. The skull is then discarded into the river and
left as a gift to the pani, the anaconda.
Carefully, the eyes are sewn
shut with fine native fiber. The lips are closed and skewered
with little wooden pegs, which are later removed and replaced
with dangling strings. From here the tsantsa goes to
the sacred boiling pots or cooking jars. The head is simmered
for approximately an hour and a half to two hours. If the heads
were left for any longer, the hair would have fallen out. On
removal from the pots, the skin is dark and rubbery, and the
head is about 1/3 its original size. The skin is turned inside
out and all the flesh adhering is scraped off with a knife.
The scraped skin is then turned right side out and the slit
in the rear is sewn together. What remains is similar to that
of an empty rubber glove.
The final shrinking is done
with hot stones and sand collected nearby in order to sear the
interior and to shrink the head further. These stones are dropped
one at a time through the neck opening and constantly rotated
inside to prevent scorching. When the skin becomes too small
for the stones to be rolled around within the head, sand is
heated in a food bowl and substituted for the stones. The sand
enters the crevices of the nose and ears, where the stones could
not reach. This process is repeated frequently. Hot stones are
later applied to the exterior of the face to seal and shape
the features. Surplus hair is singed off and the finished product
hung over a fire to harden and blacken. A heated machete is
applied to the lips to dry them. Following this procedure, the
three chonta are put through the lips and the lips are then
lashed together with string.
This entire process would
last for approximately one week, with the head being worked
on daily while en route back to their own village. The last
day of work on the trophy is spent in a forest a few hours away
from their village where the first tsantsa celebration will
take place. Here, the warriors will make a hole in the top of
the head and a double kumai is inserted and tied to a
shirt stick of chonta palm on the inside, so that the head can
be worn around the warrior's neck.
The Jivaro Indians were preoccupied
with realism, which is clearly shown in the careful preparation
of the head. Due to the meticulousness of the tribesmen, the
warrior tries to prepare the tsantsa with utmost care in order
to maintain the original likeness of a the slain victim's face.