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Doc Bwana's
House of Shrunken Heads

Shrunken Head Gallery II

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Anthropologists teach us that every custom in which a culture
engages, no matter how strange it seems, serves some greater
purpose. Since it required skill, time, hard work and complicated
rituals involving expensive feasts, head shrinking may have acted 
as a deterrent to murder. After all, if killing required all this effort
afterward, people would tend to slay others only if given
extreme provocation.





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Head shrinking is therefore not a barbaric act of simple
blood lust. It may have had an important survival value
for the head shrinking society, and was always contained
within an overall cultural framework of shared beliefs,
religious rituals, and rules of proper conduct. 




Head9.jpg (49718 bytes)To people of European descent, shrunken heads
are often seen as creations of primitive violence.
But we ourselves do peculiar things to the bodies
of the dead, and our contemporary funerary rituals
may seem distasteful and barbaric to our ancestors. 




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Our fascination with shrunken heads began from the moment
Spanish and Portuguese explorers first saw them several
hundred years ago.



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Real shrunken heads became much sought after, and
are always items of great interest in museum displays.




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Shrunken heads have been written about in literature
(e.g. in Melville's Moby Dick) and movies have even
been made about them.





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For many people, shrunken heads symbolize the
supernatural, and it is impossible to look at one
and not feel in the presence of some kind of 
archetypal symbol.





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This tendency to feel a presence within a shrunken head
has been observed by museum personnel for many years.
They have noticed that visitors tend to give the displayed
shrunken heads unusual names, and have also overheard
ordinary people saying things to the heads, almost as
though they thought they were alive. 




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This tendency to animate the shrunken heads within
the inner world of our imaginations would make an
interesting psychological study. It indicates the latent
symbolic potency which such tsantsa possess. 




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Our continuing fascination with shrunken heads has led
to a dramatic increase in the price for real examples.
Elsewhere on this site, you can see a shrunken head which
recently sold for $10,500.00! Most people who cannot
afford the real thing can purchase reproductions.
I have a friend who even had the image of a tsantsa
tattooed on his arm, and most kids who grew up in
the 50's will remember the rubber shrunken heads that
could be ordered from magazines for $1.50.




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Although we don't make the real thing ourselves, shrunken
heads are a definite part of our cultural heritage. They
mean different things to different people. For me, shrunken heads
symbolize the exotic and the unusual. They are the ultimate
curiosity, and also a vivid reminder of the many varied customs
which give color and interest to our world.




Return to

Shrunken Head Gallery I
Take a serious look at shrunken heads!

Or Visit
Shrunken Head Gallery III
Just Added 2/3/02!

Shrunken Head Gallery IV
Added 2/3/02!

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