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Shrunken Head Tsantsa Poster

The practice of shrinking human heads - a macabre custom in the Ecuador-Peruvian jungle - was outlawed in the early part of the 20th century.

Laws, however, did not curb demand, and new sources were created to provide these uncouth curios for the souvenir trade.

Although many other cultures through-out the world practiced head-hunting, the Shuar clan of the Jivaro tribe became famous for their practice of shrinking and preserving human heads.

A shrunken head taken in battle by the Shuar was called a tsantsa (pronounced SAN-SAH). First and foremost, it was a trophy.

After a successful raid, the head of the enemy was cut off with a sharp object. Until it was prepared, the head was considered inert and impotent; it only assumed its magical powers after being shrunk in accordance with strict rules. Within a day or so of the kill, and once the warrior was a safe distance away at a preplanned location, the head was processed.

When the moment of the main celebration arrived, the killer - wearing the tsantsa around his neck-would enter the hut. After the head was properly cursed and insulted by those gathered, the spirit was quelled, and the head was stuck up on top of a lance. Dinner was served.

At dusk the dance would begin - a soul-killing dance - and everyone would join in. Warriors with blood-smeared bodies would dance around the tsantsa, brandishing their lances and dramatizing the kill. The feasting and rituals continued for three to five days. Chincha, narcotics and the enemy's head made for a great celebration.

Surprisingly, however, the Shuar didn't keep the finished shrunken heads. Since their reasons for taking heads had to do with revenge, punishment and spiritual renewal, the finished product lost its value at the conclusion of the ceremony. The tsantsa was generally dis,carded, fed to animals, or thrown to the children as a plaything to be lost.

In the 19th century, increasing numbers of outsiders arrived in South America. And, because the practice of shrinking heads has long excited the imagination of explorers, exploiters, missionaries, seamen and tourists, shrunken heads - real and fake - made their way both out into the "civilized" world.

So rare were genuine Shuar shrunken heads - and so great the demand - that others attempted to copy the Shuar technique to satisfy the market. Since the late 1800s, the business of manufacturing counterfeit shrunken heads has been pursued in parts of Panama, Ecuador, Columbia and Peru.

Excerpted (with permission) from an article titled: Head Hunting in the 90s written by Jan T. Gregor.

This poster is 17 inches wide by 22 inches high, generous black ink lushly printed on parchment stock.

PLEASE NOTE: This poster image was hand drawn by Madame Talbot using nothing more than pen and ink on illustration board.

After the poster was completed, it was taken to a real printer and printed on an offset printing press.

Absolutely no computers were used in the making of this poster, all of it was drawn entirely by hand.

The copyright notice is on the website image only and not on the printed poster.

Welcome to My Little Shop of Nightmares:

Human Shrunken Head Tsantsa Gothic Lowbrow Poster



  • Handmade item
  • Materials: pen, ink, illustration board, offset printing press, parchment stock
  • Ships worldwide from United States
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  • Favorited by: 90 people