Head-Shrinking and the Purpose of TsantsaIn pre-Columbian times the art of shrinking heads was widespread in the Andean area. Early chronicles have given us excellent descriptions of shrunken heads and the methods of their preparation among the Indians of the Ecuadorian Coast.To understand the motives behind the preparation of tsantsa it is necessary to realize that the tsantsa itself possesses tsarutama or magical power. Immediately following the battle the head was taken as a trophy, which indicated that the maker had properly fulfilled the obligation to his lineage in taking blood revenge.Most Jivaro Indians would consider any victory over the enemy as incomplete, and perhaps the whole war expedition a failure if they were unable to return without one or more trophies. Furthermore, possessing the tsantsa itself would benefit the warrior's good fortune as well as please the spirits of his ancestors. The warrior could expect the spirits of their dead relatives to bestow them with good crops and fortune. Consequently, one could anticipate corresponding misfortune if their murders were not properly avenged. The Jivaros gave much more thought to the harm that might come to them through the ill will of the neglected dead relatives ghosts, than they did to the malevolent actions of enemy ghosts.More importantly, the reason behind the preparation of the tsantsa is to paralyze the spirit of the enemy attached to the head so that it cannot escape and take revenge upon the murderer. This also prevents the spirit or soul from continuing into the afterlife where it could harm dead ancestors. When the warrior kills his enemy, he is not only after the victim's life, but more importantly he seeks to possess the victim's soul. Acquiring trophies after a battle, was also an instrument of increasing a warrior's own personal power, known as arutam. The idea behind killing the enemy and taking his head as a trophy, brings the victim's arutam to the warrior. The power of the dead man's soul is still considered dangerous to the victorious tribe and therefore the motive behind shrinking the head of the enemy is to conquer and destroy the spirit or soul.In addition to satisfying the notion of blood-revenge and possessing the dead man's soul, the transformation of the head into a tsantsa implies a deadly insult not only to the dead man himself, but also to his whole tribe.The head means to the warrior what the Medal of Honor means to an American soldier.Celebration of the TsantsaAfter a successful attack on an enemy village, the victors were quick to cut or mutilate the bodies of the slain enemies. Having satisfied their desire for vengeance, the warring party made a hasty retreat before their opponents could recover from their surprise. Messengers were sent ahead to announce the outcome of the expedition to the waiting people at home.A series of tsantsa feasts were held which marked a successful raid. The rituals which followed unfolded in three episodes, each lasting several days with the last feast separated by an interval of approximately a year. The reason for the separation between feasts is to allow the for the re-harvesting of crops for the subsequent celebration. The first of these feasts is referred to as «his very blood» or numpenk. This feast is held at the house of a previously appointed wea, or master of ceremonies who had agreed to act as the host. The second feast is known as fulfillment or amianu, which is celebrated approximately a year later at one of the killer's houses. The host of this celebration usually builds a new house more worthy of the occasion. The third and final of these feasts is called the napin, which is the largest of all feasts with the head-takers supplying all the food and drink for the next six days. Abundant food is required or the head-taker may lose the prestige and notoriety he had acquired during their wartime. The Jivaro warriors smeared themselves with blood and danced with the shrunken heads of their enemies dramatizing the killing.The reasons behind the ceremonies held with the tsantsa are for the benefit of departed relatives in order to show that the Jivaros are fulfilling their obligations of blood revenge as well as to increase their own prestige. The possession of the trophy enabled the warrior to be singled out in admiration amongst his peers. During this victory celebration, the women captives stood around weeping. Accordingly, if no female captives were taken, proxies were appointed from among their own women to mourn for each tsantsa.In spite of the grandiose celebrations and the prestige acquired, that the warriors held to celebrate the tsantsa, the host's resources were often depleted during the feasts.Surprisingly, despite the amount of care and diligence that went into the preparation trophy and feasts, immediately following the final celebration, the heads were often discarded with relative indifference to the children or eventually lost in surrounding swamps.Substitute Tsantsa Used During Victory CelebrationsOften during an inter-tribal war an Indian may kill his enemy but us unable to take his head. This occurs usually for one of two reasons. The first reason occurs when a counterattack launched by the dead man's tribe forces a hasty retreat by the attacking party leaving no time to take a head. Secondly, the victim may in fact turn out to be a relative of the opposing force in which case, taking the head of the slain Indian is deemed unethical. In these cases, the warrior is still entitled to a tsantsa, so he will kill a sloth and prepare its head in absentia of the dead Indian. The use of a sloth's head is almost as common as the actual head of human. (According to the native beliefs, these tribes believed that all humans were the direct descendants of all animals. The Jivaros claim to trace most of their ancient human qualities to the sloth, who they believe is a direct survivor of ancient times.) This idea makes it acceptable to use a sloth's head as it was once considered to be an Jivaro Indian.Another acceptable substitute is known as a untsuri suara which can be employed in place of the actual human head. To make this particular tsantsa, the killer simply pulls out some of his victim's hair rather than actually decapitating them. The hair is later applied with beeswax and attached to a tree gourd and used as a substitute tsantsa. It is believed that the dead enemy's muisak or avenging soul is in it because of the presence of the hair.Introduction to the Jivaro IndianAlthough 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.Tribal Warfare and Blood RevengeWithin 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 RevengeThe 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 satisfiedMale 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.Origin of the Shrunken-head TradeBy 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 their curiosity.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.