Can brutality be a tradition?

What do you think is a most devastating view? an accident? a bomb blast?

Then you don’t know about the most brutal tribe:  The Jivaro.


                   The Jivaro is one of the most fearless tribe among the red Indians. They comprise of 120-150 members in a group and is led by a chief. They have four principal groups namely


Shuar, Achuar, Humabisa, and Aguaruna.

Among all these the Shuar is the most highly respected group of people. The are an indigenous people of Ecuador and Peru living by the headwaters of Maranon River. The chief is highly respected as they have enormous power and gets selected through a rough procedure. They have been famous for the head-hunting, and are still feared for the same.


Shuar, in the Shuar language, means “people.” The people who speak the Shuar language live in tropical rainforest between the upper mountains and the tropical rain-forests Amazonian lowlands, in Ecuador extending to Peru. Shuar refer to Shuar-speakers as apach, and to non-Shuar speakers as inkis. Europeans and European Americans used to refer to Shuar as Jivaros or jibaros. The Shuar are depicted in a wide variety of historic discussions because of Western fascination with their practice of shrinking human heads (which they call tsantsa).

Jivaro has been a dangerous tribe still in existence. Though their practices have declined a lot. In the history, they have been fearless for their selection to be the chief. The killing was a vital part of the Jivaro culture. Men become marriageable only after becoming hunters. The more one kills the more power one gains. Violence is a huge part of the Jivaroan culture in respect to this type of belief. The one among the group members, whoever was able to bring the maximum number of heads, is declared the new chief of the group.

What do they do with the head?

Now, that’s a big question. The answer though sounds simple, will make you spellbound. The head is kept as a war trophy. A vital procedure is followed to keep the head safely preserved. The process of creating a shrunken head begins with removing the skull from the head. An incision is made on the back of the neck and all the skin and flesh is removed from the skull. Red seeds are placed below the eyelids and are sewn shut. The mouth is held together with three pins collected from the palm. Fat is also removed from the flesh of the head. A wooden ball is placed under the flesh in order to maintain the form. The flesh is then boiled in water to saturate with a number of herbs. The head is then dried using hot rocks and sand while molding it to retain its human features. The skin is then rubbed with charcoal ash. In the head shrinking tradition, it is believed that coating the skin in ash keeps the avenging soul, from seeping out. The tsantsa is prepared very carefully as it is a mark of victory.

Among the Shuar and Achuar, the reduction of the heads was followed by a series of feasts centered on important rituals. The practice of preparing shrunken heads originally had religious significance. Shrinking the head of an enemy was believed to harness the spirit of that enemy and compel him to serve the shrinker. Shuar believed in the existence of three fundamental spirits namely Wakani, the innate to humans thus surviving their death. Arutam, literally “vision” or “power”, protects humans from a violent death. Muisak, vengeful spirit, which surfaces when a person carrying an arutam spirit is murdered. To block a Muisak from using its powers, the Shuar severed their enemies’ heads and shrank them. The process was also a warning to their enemies.




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