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Goth Ms. Frizzle @spookperson
, 13 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
alright twitter, let's talk shrunken heads
this is a post-colonial jivaroan shrunken head in my collection from around the 1920's-1940's

before I go into this piece in particular let's talk a little about their purpose, their manufacture, and the history associated with them
so what exaxtly is a shrunken head?

a tsantsa, or shrunken head, is a religious ceremonial object crafted by the jivaro people of equador, specifically those tribes inhabiting the headwaters of the marañon river
a tsantsa is traditionally crafted from the head of an enemy slain in battle and is believed to contain the soul of the enemy within, preventing it from seeking revenge or bringing bad luck upon the person who killed them by stitching shut the eyes, mouth, and ears
so how does one shrink a head?

after decapitation, the skull is removed from the interior of the head, the empty skin of which is then turned inside out and scraped with a flint or obsidian knife to remove as much fat and subcutaneous tissue as possible
the scraped skin is then turned inside out to form a bag that's filled with boiling sand and gravel, a process that removes collagen from the skin and causes it to shrink

the process is repeated for up to two weeks until the skin is sufficiently small
at this point the features are severely distorted, so a sharp piece of flint is used to delicately re-carve and shape the features to resemble their original owner's

once this process is complete the eyes, neck, mouth and ears are stitched shut with woven plant fiber
post-colonialization, the jivaro begin trading their art, artifacts and religious objects with europeans in exchange for, as is usually the case, guns, germs, and steel

within a decade warfare between tribes and the theft of bodies had increased to produce heads for trade
by the 1910's-1920's, heads could be purchased for roughly $25.00 through curio shops in panama, and their production and sale wasn't made illegal until nearly the 1960's

the demand drove a trade in counterfeit heads that produced the majority of the specimens we see today
it's estimated that roughly 80% of the tsantas in modern museum collections and private collections are forgeries, including all female shrunken heads, as the jivaro shrunk exclusively male heads according to their beliefs
though the jivaro produced many fakes for trade, they still practiced head shrinking until it was made illegal in the 50's by the government of ecuador and many legitimate examples still exist
my piece in particular dates well after the tourist trade and european pressure had taken foothold in the practice, and is most likely made from goat or boar skin carefully modeled with human feature and stitched with hair, though fakes also included monkey and rodent heads
tsantsas are a fascinating mourning ritual and one of the only examples of a living preservative tradition in the last century, and serve as an example of the destructive influence of colonialization and the ruinous force of capitalistic greed
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