Once upon a time, not so long ago, people called those in the mental health profession “head shrinkers.” There was a common line of thought that mental health issues were something for which to be ashamed. This outdated term is where we get the more modern term “shrink” for a therapist. Meanwhile, in a far-off land, much longer ago, headshrinker meant something entirely different.
Heritage truly has a "head-shrinking" reputation in the Amazonian rainforest, where the Jivaroan Indians would fight, decapitate, and craft tsantas (shrunken heads) as a symbolic and spiritual display of their conquests. Come, let us delve into the enigmatic history of tsantsa – a tribal tradition steeped in symbolism and spirituality.
I’ve Been Head Hunted!
Originating in the dense jungle of the Amazon, nestled between northern Peru and eastern Ecuador, this deeply rooted practice has fascinated generations. It is here, in this mystical region, that skilled hands fashioned the first tsantsas. But why was this practice born? It is believed that the Jivaroan Indians, a fearsome tribe embroiled in bloody battles for territory and resources, sought to harness the powers of their enemies through the creation of tsantsas. With victorious warriors bringing back severed heads from the battlefield, these were carefully shrunk to make tsantsas.
Though no longer practiced, the significance of this ritual still endures in the hearts of the descendants of the Jivaroan Indians. Comprising four tribes – the Shuar, Achuar, Huambisa, and Aguruna –these people believed that shrinking a head bestowed upon them the soul and strength of the slain, shielding them from meeting a similar fate. And what of the tsantsas themselves?
These remarkable possessions were once worn around the waist as a proclamation of one's valor in hostile combat—the same fate. The warriors believed it gave them an "edge" in combat. Now, that's what you call a literal power move.
Today, the image of the shrunken head is used for visual effects. Rubber replicas are sold online as party decorations, and the image is often used in movies for comedic effect. For example, Beetlejuice has his head shrunk for stealing a warrior’s number, and the shrunken heads in Hotel Transylvania are quite sassy.
Stop Ahead (From Rolling)
As European explorers stumbled upon the South American continent in the 18th and 19th centuries, they couldn't resist the temptation of collecting tsantsas, aka shrunken heads, from the local Jivaroan tribes. These unique souvenirs were highly coveted back in Europe and the U.S., leading to a surge in demand. But beware, as the tourist trade got involved, some shrunken heads turned out to be as real as a unicorn's horn, made from sloths and other unsuspecting animals. Let's just say that not all heads are created equal. This increase in demand for heads was met by a dramatic increase in head-hunting parties of both humans and animals. Ultimately, the two main reasons behind creating tsantas were the cultural practice of making battle trophies and meeting the demands of collectors and tourists.
In the 1930s, the Ecuadorian and Peruvian governments were not feeling the head-shrinking trend and banned it. Since then, the production of real shrunken heads has become as elusive as a unicorn riding a rainbow. But fear not, dear friends, for as we delve deeper into this peculiar practice, we inch closer to unlocking its mind-boggling secrets.
Shrunken Head Recipe
Time required: variable, at least 2 hours.
1 Head of the enemy
Needle and Strong Thread
Skewers and pegs
Stones and sand
A large pot or cauldron
Sewing the eyelids shut and skewer the mouth closed with wooden pegs. Next, in a large boiling pot, simmer the simmered for 1-2 hours to shrink the head. Keep a close eye on your head! "If you leave it in for too long, the head will end up bald, and if you take it out too early, it risks collapsing. Talk about a bad hair day!"
Remove the head from the boiling pot. It should have shrunk down considerably compared to its original size. The skin should also appear darker and more rubbery in texture.
Turn the skin inside out to remove any remaining soft tissue with a knife. Then, resew the skin and continue the shrinking process by placing hot stones and sand inside the head to make it contract from the inside. This will also tan the skin on the inside to preserve it.
After the head reaches the desired size, place additional hot stones on the outside of the head to seal the face and shape the features.
Next, rub the skin with charcoal ash to darken the complexion. This step keeps the wrathful spirit of the enemy from seeping out of the head and causing suffering.
Finally, place the head over a fire to harden it and darken its complexion even more. Remove the wooden pegs and strings to lash them together.
If you wish to wear the head around your waist, create a hole in the top of the head and run string through so it can be worn properly.
Let us know how your recipe turns out! Just kidding! Please, for the love, DO NOT attempt this at home. Leave it to the professionals!