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Shrunken Heads

In: English and Literature

Submitted By flip81
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How Shrunken Heads are Made

There are many different practices by many different cultures. In some cultures these practices are extreme, especially in ancient cultures. In these ancient times these rituals were used to instill fear in anyone that would oppose them. One of these cultures was the Jivaro Indians of South America. There is not a lot known about them except that their tribes were known headhunters, and headhunting was just the beginning. The most drastic of their rituals was the practice of shrinking human heads. There are many cultures that practiced headhunting. All of them had their own way of displaying the head, but most had the same reasons for the act. Having the trophy displayed was a way of showing strength and skill. Others believed that a head held magical powers and removing that head one could obtain that power for themselves. Headhunting still goes on today; it has just went from the heads of enemies to the heads of animals killed by hunters. The head of an animal mounted and hung on a wall still represents the same thing, in a way, by showing the skill of the hunter. The Jivaro are an interesting people; their tribes do not have a set leader even though there is a chief. The way this works is certain members with stature and respect actually lead the tribe. They are mostly hunter and gathers, and very prideful since they considers themselves warriors (Anthony, 1921). With these beliefs spawned the practice of headhunting, having more heads gave more status. They reasons for collecting heads, one of the reasons was feuds between other tribes and seeking vengeance when they were wronged. Another reason was to obtain more wives since having many wives was a common practice (Anthony, 1921). After travelers found out about the shrunken heads a trade for them was born, and the end result was headhunting not for pride but for profit. When the Jivaro removed a head, they had a special was of preserving and displaying that head. What they did was shrink that head to about the size of an orange. By doing this they could easily display this head on a wall or on their own body. The process for shrinking a head varies by the different tribes except for the first step which is to remove the head and leave a flap of skin from the neck attached. The next thing that is done is to remove the flesh from bone, and this has to be done carefully as the skin is delicate and features can be lost. That flesh is then put in a special blend of native plants to alter the skin tone and soften the skin. Depending on the tribe, hot rocks, pebbles, or sand is placed into the head after it is sewn up to promote the shrinking of the skin. The process of heating to shrink the skin can take up to seven days or more, and the whole process itself can take up to a month to complete. After the perfect size is obtained, the newly shrunken head is then affixed with a cord or vine so that it can be worn (Mead, 1921). When everything is finished there is a celebration for the victor and his prize. The Jivaro definitely had some interesting ways in their culture, and after reading about their most unique practice, most would have to agree. They might not be the only ones that did weird things to the ones that they had hunted and killed but what they did does stand out. What should be taken from this essay is how some cultures have extreme rituals, but that should not make a negative view of these people. There have been attempts to end the practices of headhunting, but with the remote location of many of the ones involved it is difficult to enforce such a law (Mead, 1921). With the change of times headhunting and similar practices are now known to be wrong, but in the past they were common.

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