The History of Tsantsa


Tribal Warfare and Blood Revenge

Within the vast region of the Amazon a perpetual animosity existed between the neighboring tribes of the Jivaro. Once again, due to the fervent belief in witch craft and sorcery this was the primary cause of warfare between the tribes. A fundamental difference between wars enacted within the same tribe and against neighboring tribes is such that " wars between different tribes are in principle wars of extermination" ( Karsten, p. 277) A significant goal of these wars was geared toward the annihilation of the enemy tribe, including women and children. This was done in order to prevent them from seeking revenge against the victors in the future. There were however, many instances where the women and children were taken as prisoners and forced to become a part of the victors families. It is solely in these wars that trophies/tsantsa were taken. The Jivaros consistently engaged in this practice toward their mortal enemies.

As wars between tribal cultures were not instigated with the hope of acquiring additional territory, as soon as fighting was over, the victorious tribesmen made a hasty retreat. Superstitious fear and contempt of the enemy compelled the Jivaros to abandon the area quickly where they believed that secret supernatural dangers would threaten them after they had conquered their natural enemies.

Should blood revenge have continued at the extreme rate of the early 1900's, extermination was evident. Through the work of missionaries, the killing slowly subsided.

Today, in a relatively calm existence, superstitions are still very strong, but the harm done to past ancestors is not forgotten.

Inter-Tribal Feuding and Blood Revenge

The Jivaro by nature are a highly superstitious and impulsive people, thereby giving rise to frequent disputes and wars between each other, as well as between neighboring tribes. Because witchcraft and sorcery can account for the majority of murders and natural deaths within a tribe, it is not surprising that the medicine men ,or shamans, are most susceptible to attack as they are frequently accused of using their powers against others. Each tribe is thereby compelled to kill the opposing medicine man to free themselves of his evil magic.

On the whole, the Jivaro Indians do subscribe to the notion of a natural death, but rather attributed each death to supernatural causes. Following each death a vicious cycle of retaliation ensues in which someone is always held accountable for the murder of another. As the Jivaro Indian is consumed with the notion of retaliation, his " desire for revenge is an expression of his sense of justice." (Karsten, p. 271) This cycle of blood-revenge is perpetuated by religious reasons by which the soul of the victim requires that his relatives should avenge his death. If the surviving members do not retaliate against the slayer, the anger of the vengeful spirit may in fact turn against themselves. If blood-revenge cannot be directed to the actual slayer, it may be directed toward one of his relations. Once a murder has been avenged, blood-guilt or tumashi akerkama is atoned for and the offended family is satisfied

Male children were taught at an early age about the concept of blood revenge. The father instructs the younger men, often as young as six years of age, to listen to the various crimes that had been committed against his people. A strong sense of family justice is instilled in the minds of the young, who are later expected to avenge previous injustices committed against their family members. Further incentive is encouraged by the notion of reward, including blessings, good luck, long life and many opportunities to kill one's enemy.

It must be noted that trophies/ tsantsa were not taken during the disputes between blood-relatives.

 

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