Shrunken heads: How Amazonian tribes shrunk their enemies’ heads

Shrunken heads are a somewhat alien concept to modern society, yet it is believed they were still being produced during much of the 20th century. The only recorded examples of head shrinking are in South America by Jivaroan tribes in Peru and Ecuador.

Tribesmen shrunk people’s decapitated heads due to their belief of a vengeful spirit, or muisak, inhabiting the body. To stop this spirit and to gain power over the victim’s soul, the hunters removed their enemies’ heads and shrank them. First, the warriors would remove the skin and hair from the skull, and seal the eyes and lips shut with pegs. The head skin would then be boiled for half an hour, shrinking it to around a third its original size.

The West’s demand for collecting shrunken heads in the early-20th century caused tribes to increase their kill rate


The eyes and lips were then sealed more tightly by being sewn shut with woven fibre. By filling the head with hot stones and sand through the hole at the base of the neck, it was possible to shrink it even further until the desired size was achieved. The finished product was typically worn around the warrior’s neck, signifying victory in battle.

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