Shrunken heads

Because the Jivaro group of tribes ferociously guarded their privacy well into the twentieth century, not much was known of them in the world beyond the Amazon basin of Ecuador and Peru.  Early travelers to the region found the Jivaro’s poorly understood practice of headhunting fascinating and eagerly sought to bring home souvenirs.   Beginning in the 1870s, the Jivaro produced imitations made of monkey, sloth and goat skin that they created exclusively for trade.  Non-native taxidermists soon go in the act and peppered the market with counterfeit heads which were procured from unclaimed individuals grabbed from morgues under false pretenses.  Though genuine examples exist, they are extremely rare. 

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’s collection of seven heads came by way of the famous Heye Foundation in New York, shortly before the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments joined forces to put an stop to the traffic in human heads. 

Keep your head!

Over the past century we have learned more about the Jivaro, including some of the complexities of the head-shrinking ritual.  The head was called a tsantsa, and it served not only as a war trophy, but as a magical talisman and a kind of spiritual insurance.  The main purpose of taking a warrior’s head was to possess is soul, and shrinking that head destroyed the dead man’s ability to exact vengeance his killer.  Once, the head was shrunken and an elaborate series of feasts and rituals was completed, the head had fulfilled its function. 


***The replica heads for sale are not genuine heads.  Our genuine shrunken heads are a part of our museum collection and NOT FOR SALE.  These replica shrunken heads are made by hand and are made from goatskin.  They come from Ecuador.  The hair used are from goats so colors and length will vary.***




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