Shrunken Heads: Real or Not?

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Shrunken Heads: Real or Not?

Laurel Correa, Opinion Writer

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Within Ripley’s collection, there are over 100 shrunken heads–and not just any heads. They’re real human heads. Ripley claims them as being “one of our most iconic exhibits.” The first shrunken head was collected from a trader in Panama City during the year 1923.

The process of retrieving these human heads and shrinking them down to a size not much bigger than a man’s fist dates back to the Ancient Incas around 1,000 years ago. Although the practice of such as thing may have once been common across the reaches of the South American empire, by the time 19th-century travelers reached the region, very few tribes continued to practice the tradition.

To continue, the tribe of the Jivaro is located in the jungle spanning Ecuador and Peru. They are known as the most modern of cultures to continue the practice. But due to inhabiting such a remote and distant part of the world, very few people outside the Jivaro have ever been able to see a shrunken head, and even fewer have witnessed the process of making one.

This ancient process has been long kept a secret by the native practitioners, though fakes can be easily found throughout the world. However, a genuine shrunken head is called a tsantsa and were once very valuable symbols of bravery or accomplishment for their tribal warriors. A tsantsa had been prepared by: “Slitting the back of the victim’s neck and peeling the skin away from the skull. Once the bones were out of the way, the eyes and mouth were sewn shut. The Jivaro believed that the mouth must be bound together, in order to keep the head’s avenging spirit from coming out. Once the fresh head was prepared, it was stuffed full of hot stones, then boiled in a broth of special herbs. Finally, the skin was cured over an open fire.” According to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! news site.

The Jivaro shrunken head tradition is one that most may not believe to be true. However, according to Daniel Correa, a freshman at Seward High School it’s a “disturbing” process. One of which he claimed to not, “understand what would make them think to shrink someone’s head to represent their bravery.” I, too, agreed with this thought. At first look of the article, “I didn’t think it was real,” Daniel said, but after further inspection and looking at many pictures that some may have called “graphic,” he decided it was the “real deal.”

Daniel began asking questions, more to himself than anything. “Imagine how many heads they probably had to experiment with this to get their perfect shrunken head,” he pondered. It was something to consider as the Jivaros thought of these heads to be that of something somewhat spiritual, so they must have taken time to entrap “the head’s avenging spirit,” as previously mentioned. Daniel agreed with this. Daniel concluded with a last comment as to what could “the tribe’s people have felt while dissecting another’s head, especially that of someone they knew.”

It is said that once discovered by western explorers, shrunken heads became extremely desirable by collectors from around the world. Even so, that natives began making what were known as “souvenir heads,” which were made as quickly and easily as possible–therefore, having no cultural value to the Jivaro themselves.

Think this is cool? You can get your own shrunken head by entering in the Ripley’s 12 Weirds of Christmas contest and along with it comes the illustrated directions for making one of your own. Don’t worry, though…they’re just the “souvenir heads.”