29 sept 2010

Akan Drum

Akan drum: the drummer is calling me

Name: Akan Drum
Origin: West Africa
Date: before 1710
Museum: British Museum, London
Material: Wood and animal skin
Visitable: 12 August – 10 October 2010  /  Room 3  /  Free
The Akan drum is the oldest African-American object in the British Museum, brought from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia as part of the slave trade around 1735. ‘Akan’ refers to an ethnic and linguistic group from West Africa which includes
the Fante, Asante and Akuapem, and its culture is most apparent today in Ghana.
The drum was acquired by Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection formed the basis of the British Museum when it was founded in 1753. Broadcaster, playwright, and British Museum Trustee Bonnie Greer has been involved in the creation of the display, and it focuses on two main themes – the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the origins of African-American music.
The first part of the display describes the journey of the drum from West Africa to the Colony of Virginia, relating the suffering and displacement of peoples as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
This journey would have typically included the practice of ‘dancing the slaves’, where enslaved Africans were forcibly exercised on board the
slave ships, a practice in which it is likely this
drum would have played a part.
The second part of the display examines the massive influence of African and African-
American music on most popular music from the
20th century onwards, including jazz, blues, R&B,
and rock ’n’ roll.
The drum is one of the objects featured in the British Museum and BBC Radio 4 series
A History of the World in 100 objects

© Photo and text: British Museum

27 sept 2010

Costa Rican hearts of palm salad

Hearts of palm
Bactris gasipaes is a species of palm native to the tropical forests of the South and Central America. It is a palm which can typically grow to 20 m or taller, with pinnate leaves 3 m long on a 1 m long petiole. The fruit is a drupe with an edible pulp surrounding the single seed, 4-6 cm long and 3-5 cm broad. The rind (epicarp) of this wild palm can be red, yellow, or orange when the fruit is ripe depending on the variety of the palm.
This plant may also be harvested for heart of palm, and has commercial advantages in being fast growing; the first harvest can be from 18 to 24 months after planting. In Brazil, it is a viable solution for the heart of palm cultivation industry because its agricultural characteristics are adequate for it to be beneficial to substitute it for other native palms such as species of Euterpe including Euterpe oleracea (known as açaí) and Euterpe edulis (known as juçara), that have been extensively exploited and are protected as endangered species. The Brazilian domestic market for heart of palm is about five times bigger than the external one; however, there is an increasing demand for this product internationally as it is increasingly used in international cookery. In addition, the cultivation of Bactris gasipaes is also economically important for Costa Rica.

Costa Rican hearts of palm salad
  • 2 16-ounce cans of hearts of palm
  • 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth (remove fat)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ground pepper to taste
  • very small amount of salt (optional)
  • lettuce leaves
How to cook it
Drain the hearts of palm, cut them into ½-inch pieces, and put them into a large bowl. Stir in the red pepper, yellow pepper, and chopped parsley.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, chicken broth, and olive oil. Drizzle the dressing over the hearts of palm mixture and toss gently. Season to taste with salt (optional) and pepper. Line a serving bowl with lettuce leaves, spoon the salad on top and serve.

© Text and image: Wikipedia / Recipe: www.world-recipes.info  

26 sept 2010

Processional Giants and Dragons

Traditional processions of huge effigies of giants, animals or dragons encompass an original ensemble of festive popular manifestations and ritual representations. These effigies first appeared in urban religious processions at the end of the fourteenth century in many European towns and continue to serve as emblems of identity for certain Belgian (Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons) and French towns (Cassel, Douai, Pézenas and Tarascon), where they remain living traditions. The giants and dragons are large-scale models measuring up to nine metres in height and weighing as much as 350 kilos. They represent mythical heroes or animals, contemporary local figures, historical, biblical or legendary characters or trades. St. George fighting the dragon is staged in Mons; Bayard, the horse from the Charlemagne legend, parades in Dendermonde; and Reuze Papa and Reuze Maman, popular family characters, parade at Cassel. The performances, often mixing secular procession and religious ceremony, vary from town to town, but always follow a precise ritual in which the giants relate to the history, legend or life of the town.
Giants and dragons enliven popular festivals where they are the main actors at least once a year, as each effigy has its specific feast day. They act out historical scenes and dance in the streets to the accompaniment of fanfares and costumed people. The crowd follows the procession, and many participants help in the preparations at different stages of the festival. The construction of a giant and its ongoing maintenance require months of work and know-how in many techniques given the range of materials used. Although these expressions are not threatened with immediate disappearance, they do suffer from a number of pressures, such as major changes to town centres and increasing tourism, leading to the detriment of the popular, spontaneous nature of the festival. 
Inscribed in 2008 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (originally proclaimed in 2005)
©  Text: UNESCO / Photo: Maison des Géants - J. Flament

25 sept 2010

Keïta! L'héritage du Griot

Title: Keïta! L'héritage du Griot
Director: Dani Kouyaté
Writer: Dani Kouyaté
Year: 1994
Running time:  94 minutes
Country: Burkina Faso
Plot summary:
Keita is a retelling of the first third of Sundjata Keita's 13th century epic, Sundjata. It tells of Mabo Keïta (Hamed Dicko), a thirteen-year-old boy who lives in a middle-class family in Ouagadougou and attends a geed school. One day he encounters Djeliba Kouyate (Sotigui Kouyate), an elderly griot who wants to tell the young Keïta the origin of his name, being related to Sundata (Seydou Boro). Kouyate begins his story with the Mandeng creation myth: As all living beings come together in the newly-formed Earth, one man proclaims to the masses that he wants to be their king. They respond, "We do not hate you." The old griot goes on to tell how Keita's family are descended from buffalo, the blackbirds are always watching him, and how people have roots that are deep in the earth. The film shows realistic-looking flashbacks to ancient times and ends with Sundjata Keita being exiled from the Kingdom of Mande, to which he lays claim.

© Text and photo: Wikipedia

23 sept 2010

The Nama of Namibia

Name: Nama or Namaqua (Hotttentots)
Living Area: Namibia, South-Africa and Botswana (Africa)
Population: >60.000
Language: Nama language (Khoe-Kwadi Central Khoisan family)
The Nama are the largest group of the Khoikhoi people, most of whom have largely disappeared as a group, except for the Namas. Many live in Namaqualand, which today straddles the Namibian border with South Africa.
For thousands of years, the Khoisan peoples of South Africa and southern Namibia maintained a nomadic way of life. From 1904 to 1907, the Nama, along with the Herero took up arms against the Germans, who had colonized present-day Namibia. About 10,000 Nama, 50% of the total Nama population, perished during that war.
Following the discovery of diamonds at the mouth of the Orange River in the 1920s, however, prospectors began moving into the region, establishing towns at Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth, a process that accelerated the appropriation of traditional lands that had begun early in the colonial period. Under apartheid, remaining pastoralists were encouraged to abandon their traditional lifestyle in favour of village life.
The Nama people originally lived around the Orange River in southern Namibia and northern South Africa. The early colonialists referred to them as Hottentots. Their alternative historical name, "Namaqua", simply stems from the addition of the Khoekhoe language suffix "-qua/khwa", meaning "people" (found in the names of other Southern African nations like the Griqua)
In general the Nama practice a policy of communal land ownership. Music, poetry and story telling are very important in Nama culture and many stories have been passed down orally through the generations.
The Nama have a culture that is rich in the musical and literary abilities of its people. Traditional music, folk tales, proverbs, and praise poetry have been handed down for generations and form the base for much of their culture. They are known for crafts which include leatherwork, skin karosses and mats, musical instruments (such as reed flutes), jewellery, clay pots, and tortoiseshell powder containers.
In 1991, a portion of Namaqualand (home of the Nama and one of the last true wilderness areas of South Africa) became the Richtersveld National Park. In December 2002, ancestral lands, including the park, were returned to community ownership and the governments of South Africa, Namibia, and Angola embarked on the development of a transfrontier park along the west coast of southern Africa, absorbing the Richtersveld National Park. Today, the Richtersveld National Park is one of the few places where the original Nama traditions survive. Here, the Nama still move with the seasons and speak their language. The traditional Nama dwelling - the |haru oms, or portable rush-mat covered domed hut - is a reflection of a nomadic way of life, offering a cool haven against the blistering heat of the sun, yet easy to pack and move if grazing lands become scarce.
They have largely abandoned their traditional religion through the sustained efforts of Christian (and now Muslim) proselytisers. The majority of the Nama people in Namibia today are therefore Christian, with a small Muslim minority.
The Nama have much in common with the San (Bushmen) sharing the same linguistic roots and features, as with the San people the Nama have light skin, and a small delicate frame. The Nama language share a common language with the Damara people. The Nama consist of thirteen groups (listed with Nama name and European name in parenthesis) the !Kharkoen (Simon Cooper), /Hoaaran//Aixallaes (Afrikaner), =Aonin (Topnaar), Kai//Khaun, Khauben (Rooi Nasie), /Hai/Khau-an (Berseba tribe), Orlams, //Habobe/Kharloan (Veldskoendraers), //Khau/goan (Swartbooi), !Gami=nun (Bondelswarts), /Koenesen (Witbooi), //Okain (Groot Doders) and Kai/Khau-an (Lamberts). The imaginative spelling of the Nama names is due to the fact they have five clicks in the language, and these are their denotations.
One of the greatest Namibian leaders Hendrik Witbooi was a Nama leader who heroically harassed the German occupiers from his base in the Naukluft mountains and played a large part in the history of Namibia's first liberation struggle. Today he is fondly remembered by all sections of the Namibian Population and was chosen as the head which appears on all Namibian banknotes.
Well-known by: 
The traditional dress of Nama women consists of long, formal dresses that resemble Victorian traditional fashion. The long, flowing dresses were developed from the style of the missionaries in the 1800s, and this traditional clothing is today an integral part of the Nama nation's culture.
Some words in Nama language:   
hello: Matisa ti axaro
my name is ___: Ti inons ge ___
how are you?: Matisa

© Text and images: Wikipedia

17 sept 2010


Exhibition: Indépendance! Congolese Tell Their Stories of 50 Years of Independence
11 June 2010 to 9 January 2011
Place: Royal Museum for Central Africa, Leuvensesteenweg 13, Tervuren (Belgium)
Admission: Adults € 6
About the exhibition:
30 June 1960: the Congo declares its independence.
Fifty years later, the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren is organizing an exhibition that will place the events just prior, during and after independence into their proper historical, political and geographical context.
The main actors, the Congolese themselves, will take centre stage. In this way, the exhibition will present the period’s myriad individual experiences, historical interpretations, and political events that reverberate to this day.
Through archives, objects, photographs, witness accounts, film footage and relevant art objects, the exhibition will offer a variety of perspectives.

© Text and image: www.africamuseum.be

15 sept 2010

Water divining rods in the Pitt Rivers Museum

In the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford there are two water divining rods, donated by the anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in 1893. Each is cut at the junction of two twigs forming a V shape. They are stated to have been made by a professional water-finder in about 1880 near Wells in Somerset.
In an article on Malay Divining Rods published in 1902, Tylor records what he states was his only experience "of the methods of the English water-finder". He states that it was some 20 years ago at Somerleaze, the home of Professor E.A. Freeman the Historian. He says that they invited a well-known and successful dowser in the Mendip district to come and demonstrate how he used his forked hazel divining rod. He was, Tylor states "a straightforward man, thoroughly believing in his craft and undeniably a successful well-sinker."
In his trials the diviner emphasised the difference between surface springs and "main springs" which would give a permanent supply of water. Tylor says that it was not a serious trial and that it would not have been difficult to find suitable places near Wells in any case. They then asked the diviner if he could find treasure. Tylor's watch, a large old-fashioned gold repeater was hidden in the house under rugs, and he states that the rod sipped not far from where the watch lay. The diviner said that when he had found it, he had felt by the rod that he was over "a good main-spring."
In a letter from Freeman's wife Eleanor to Anna Tylor following this trial, which confirms it took place in January 1883, she comments on the dowsing trial, which evidently had found a convert in the Freeman household. She states "I am sure Mr Tylor would have been amused if he had heard our gardener talking about his hazel twig this evening - & showing us how perfectly it dipped over the main spring of his watch. With him it certainly bent over but was unmaleable in my hands. William certainly thinks he has quite the power of divining now."
This suggests not only that the dowser demonstrated his craft, but that he made a rod for the gardener, and most likely also for the Tylors to try out dowsing, which they donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum ten years later. Whether Tylor tried his hand at dowsing he does not say, but given his interest in investigating spiritualist séances, it seems most likely that he was keen to get to the root of what was happening.
In 1902, in comparing the Malay divining rods to the English and the range of things they can be used to find, he asks what they have in common. He states "Nothing but that the diviner wants to find something. The divining instrument has no physical relation with the water more than with stolen goods, or murderers, or the time of day; it only follows the seeker's state of mind and body."
Tylor suggests that it is only that the diviner personifies the rods and imagines that they are giving him information. He notes that Malay diviners may believe the rods to be possessed by a demon and used to drive out other demons, and that European divining rods used to be taken to church wrapped in baby's clothes to get them surreptitiously christened.
© Photo and text: Pitt-Rivers Museum

13 sept 2010

Tamales Mexicanos

In two days, Mexico will celebrate its 200 years of independence and the 100 years since the mexican revolution.
To celebrate with them, we publish here a recipe of one of the most festive foods in mexican kitchens: tamales.
The tamales (singular: tamal) are a very popular mexican dish made of masa (a starchy dough, often corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be further filled with meats, cheese, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.
Tamales were one of the staples found by the Spanish Conquistadors when they first arrived in Mexico and were soon widely spread throughout their other colonies. Tamales are said to have been as ubiquitous and varied as the sandwich is today.
Tamales originated in Mesoamerica as early as 5000 to 8000 BCE. Aztec and Maya civilizations as well as the Olmeca and Tolteneca before them used tamales as a portable food, often to support their armies but also for hunters and travelers. There have also been reports of tamal use in the Inca Empire long before the Spanish visited the new world.
The diversity of native languages in Mesoamerica led to a number of local words for the tamal, many of which remain in use.
In Mexico, tamales begin with a dough made from nixtamalized corn (hominy), called masa, or a masa mix such as Maseca, and are generally wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves before cooking, depending on the region from which they come. They usually have a sweet or savory filling and are typically steamed until firm.
Few countries have such an extensive variety of tamales as Mexico, where they're considered one of the most beloved traditional foods. Almost every region and state in the country has its own kind of tamal. It is said that there are between 500 and 1000 different types of tamales all around the country. Some experts estimate the annual consumption in hundreds of millions every year.
Tamales are a favorite comfort food in Mexico, eaten as both breakfast and dinner, and often accompanied by hot Atole or Champurrado, maize-based beverages of indigenous origin. Street vendors can be seen serving them from huge, steaming, covered pots (tamaleras).
In Mexico City, the tamal is often placed inside a wheat bread roll to form a torta de tamal, substantial enough to keep a person satiated until Mexico's traditional late lunch hour.
The most common fillings are pork and chicken, in either red or green salsa or mole. Another very traditional variation is to add pink colored sugar to the corn mix and fill it with raisins or other dried fruit and make a sweet tamal (tamal de dulce). There are commonly a few "deaf", or filling-less, tamales (tamal sordo), which might be served with refried beans and coffee.
The cooking of tamales is traditionally done in batches of tens if not hundreds, and the ratio of filling to dough (and the coarseness of the filling) is a matter of discretion.
Instead of corn husks or plantain leaves, banana leaves are used in tropical parts of the country such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, and the Yucatán Peninsula. These tamales are rather square in shape, often very large— 15 inches (40 cm) or more— and thick; a local name for these in Southern Tamaulipas is Zacahuil. Another less-common variation is to use chard leaves, which can be eaten along with the filling.
Tamales became one of the representatives of Mexican culinary tradition in Europe, being one of the first samples of the culture that the Spanish conquistadors took back to Spain as proof of civilization, according to Fray Juan de Zumarraga.
Today, tamales are often eaten during festivities, such as Christmas, the Day of the Dead, Posadas and Mexican Independence Day.

Tamale Filling:
  • 1 1/4 pounds pork loin
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 4 dried California chile pods
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Tamale Dough:
  • 2 cups masa harina
  • 1 (10.5 ounce) can beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup lard
  • 1 (8 ounce) package dried corn husks
  • 1 cup sour cream
How to cook them
Place pork into a Dutch oven with onion and garlic, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the meat is cooked through, about 2 hours.
Use rubber gloves to remove stems and seeds from the chile pods. Place chiles in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, then remove from heat to cool. Transfer the chiles and water to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the mixture, stir in salt, and set aside. Shred the cooked meat and mix in one cup of the chile sauce.
Soak the corn husks in a bowl of warm water. In a large bowl, beat the lard with a tablespoon of the broth until fluffy. Combine the masa harina, baking powder and salt; stir into the lard mixture, adding more broth as necessary to form a spongy dough.
Spread the dough out over the corn husks to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness. Place one tablespoon of the meat filling into the center. Fold the sides of the husks in toward the center and place in a steamer. Steam for 1 hour.
Remove tamales from husks and drizzle remaining chile sauce over. Top with sour cream. For a creamy sauce, mix sour cream into the chile sauce.

© Text and images: Wikipedia and www.allrecipes.com 

11 sept 2010


Title: El-Haimoune (Wanderers of the Desert)
Director: Nacer Khemir
Writer: Nacer Khemir
Year: 1986
Running time: 90 minutes
Country: Tunisia and France
Plot summary:
El-haimoune (Wanderers of the Desert) is the first in a trilogy of movies by director Nacer Khemir set in the expanse of the Tunisian desert. In fact, as he readily admits, ‘In all of my three movies, the desert is a character in itself.’
El-haimoune is a homage to Arab culture, albeit a culture of a bygone age, one that is more often found away from the big cities. Which is good news if you are viewing the movie for travel purposes. It offers a view of the Tunisian landscape that hasn’t been embellished with droids, landspeeders and Skywalkers.
The story tells of a young teacher travelling to a new job at a village school in the middle of nowhere. What happens after he arrives is a blend of myth and reality. People are drawn by an ancient curse to wander endlessly in the desert, a man spends 50 years digging for treasure, and a mysterious boat is washed up in the sand.
The film has been acclaimed and derided in equal part, but there is general consensus about one thing – the landscape. As one writer says, ‘Nacer Khemir has created a series of films that portray both the beauty and mystery of the deserts of Tunisia to astounding effect.’
Says Khemir, ‘There is a Tuareg proverb that says: “There are lands that are full of water for the well-being of the body, and lands that are full of sand for the well-being of the soul.” The desert is a literary field and a field of abstraction at the same time. It is one of the rare places where the infinitely small, that is a speck of sand, and the infinitely big, and that is billions of specks of sand, meet. It is also a place where one can have a true sense of the universe and of its scale.’
The shimmering, windswept sands of North Africa are used as a magical backdrop throughout the movie. Like the constantly shifting shape of the dunes, nothing is what it seems.
© Text by Roshan McArthur

9 sept 2010

The Shuar of Ecuador and Peru

Name: Shuar
Living area: Ecuador and Peru (South America)
Language: Shuar
First european contact: 16th century
Shuar, in the Shuar language, means "people". The people who speak the Shuar language live in tropical rainforest between the upper mountains of the Andes, and the tropical rainforests and savannas of the Amazonian lowlands, in Ecuador extending to Peru. Shuar live in various places: thus, the muraiya (hill) shuar are people who live in the foothills of the Andes; the achu (swamp-palm) shuar (or Achuar) are people who live in the wetter lowlands east of the Andes (Ecuador and Peru).
Shuar refer to Spanish-speakers as apach, and to non-Spanish/non-Shuar speakers as inkis. Europeans and European Americans used to refer to Shuar as jívaros or jíbaros; this word probably derives from the 16th century Spanish spelling of "shuar", but has taken other meanings including "savage" (and Shuar consider it an insult); outside of Ecuador, Jibaro has come to mean "rustic".
From the time of first contact with Europeans in the 16th century, to the formation of the Shuar Federation in the 1950s and 1960s, Shuar were semi-nomadic and lived in separate households dispersed in the rainforest, linked by the loosest of kin and political ties, and lacking corporate kin-groups or centralized or institutionalized political leadership. The center of Shuar life was a relatively autonomous household consisting of a man, his wives (usually two), unmarried sons, and daughters. Upon marriage sons would leave their natal household, and sons-in-law would move in. Men hunted and wove clothes; women gardened. Both men and women were involved in feuding warfare with other groups. When Shuar first made contact with Spaniards in the 16th century, they entered into peaceful trade relations. They violently resisted taxation, however, and drove Spaniards away in 1599. Colonization and missionization in the 20th century however have led Shuar to reorganize themselves into nucleated settlements called centros. Centros initially facilitated evangelization by Catholic missionaries but also became a means to defend Shuar land claims against those of non-indigenous settlers. In 1964 representatives of Shuar centros formed a political Federation to represent their interests to the state, non-governmental organizations, and transnational corporations.
Prior to missionization in the 1940s and 1950s Shuar culture functioned to organize and promote a warrior society. Boys of about eight years would be taken by their fathers or uncles on a three to five day journey to a nearby waterfall, during which time the boy would drink only tobacco water. At some point the child would be given maikua (Datura arborea, Solanaceae), in the hope that he would then see momentary visions, or arútam. These visions were produced by a wakaní or ancestral spirit. If the boy were brave enough he could touch the arútam, and acquire the arútam wakaní. This would make the boy very strong, and possession of several arútam wakaní would make the boy invincible. Shuar, however, believed that they could easily lose their arútam wakaní, and thus repeated this ritual several times. A Shuar warrior who had lived to kill many people was called a kakáram. Shuar believed that if a person in possession of an arútam wakaní died a peaceful death, they would give birth to a new wakaní; if someone in possession of an arútam wakaní were killed, they would give birth to a muísak.
Shuar generally do not believe in natural death, although they recognize that certain epidemics such as measles and scarlet fever are diseases introduced through contact with Europeans or Euro-Americans. They fought primarily with spears and shotguns, but — like many other groups in the region — also believed that they could be killed by tsentsak, invisible darts. Any unexplained death was attributed to such tsentsak. Although tsentsak are animate, they do not act on their own. Shamans (in Shuar, "Uwishin") are people who possess and control tsentsak. To possess tsentsak they must purchase them from other shamans; Shuar believe that the most powerful shamans are Quichua-speakers, who live to the north and east. To control tsentsak Shuar must ingest natem (Banisteriopsis caapi). Many Shuar believe that illness is caused when someone hires a shaman to shoot tsentsak into the body of an enemy. This attack occurs in secret and few if any shamans admit to doing this. If someone takes ill they may go to a shaman for diagnosis and treatment.

Well-known by: Shrunken heads.
Most known shrunken heads were manufactured either by indigenous peoples in Melanesia and the Amazon Basin, or by European or Euro-Americans attempting to recreate the practice. In Amazonia, the only people known to have shrunk human heads are the Shuar, Achuar, Huambisa and Aguaruna, collectively classified as the Jivaroan peoples of Ecuador and Peru. Among the Shuar, a shrunken head is known as a tsantsa, also transliterated tzantza.
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 cranium. Red seeds are placed underneath the eyelids and the eyelids are sewn shut. The mouth is held together with three palm pins. Fat from the flesh of the head is removed. It is here that a wooden ball is placed in order to keep form. The flesh is then boiled in water that has been steeped with a number of herbs containing tannins. It is then dried with hot rocks and sand, while molding it to retain its human feature. The skin is then rubbed down with charcoal ash. Decorative beads are added to the head.
In the headshrinking tradition, it is believed that coating the skin in ash keeps the muisak, or avenging soul, from seeping out.
Shrunken heads are known for their mandibular prognathism, facial distortion and shrinkage of the lateral sides of the forehead; these are artifacts of the shrinking process.
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. It was said to prevent the soul from avenging his death.
Shuar believed in the existence of three fundamental spirits:
  • Wakani - innate to humans thus surviving their death.
  • Arutam - literally "vision" or "power", protects humans from a violent death.
  • Muisak - vengeful spirit, which surfaces when an arutam spirit-carrying person is murdered.
To block the last spirit from using its powers, they decided to sever their enemies' heads and shrink them. The process also served as a way of warning those enemies. Even with these uses, the owner of the trophy did not keep it for long. Many heads were later used in religious ceremonies and feasts that celebrated the victories of the tribe. Accounts vary as to whether the heads would be discarded or stored.
At first, cultural restrictions meant that deaths from traditional conflict were relatively rare,[citation needed] and few shrunken heads were prepared. When westerners created an economic demand for shrunken heads, however, there was a sharp increase in the rate of killings in an effort to supply collectors and tourists. Guns were usually what the Shuar acquired in exchange for their shrunken heads, the rate being one gun per head. But weapons were not the only items exchanged; during the 1930s, when heads were freely exchanged, a person could buy a shrunken head for about twenty-five dollars. A stop was put to this when the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments worked together to outlaw the traffic in heads.
Also encouraged by this trade, as early as the 1870s people in Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador unconnected to the Jívaros began to make counterfeit tsantsas. They used corpses from morgues, or the heads of monkeys or sloths. Some even used goatskin. It has been estimated that about 80 percent of the tsantsas in private and museum hands are fraudulent, including almost all that are female or which include an entire torso rather than just a head. Currently, replica shrunken heads are manufactured as curios for the tourist trade. These are made from leather and animal hides formed to resemble the originals.
Some words in their language:   
hello: pujamek
my name is ___: wiña naárka ___ aiti
yes: eé
no: atsa
goodbye: ayu, pujumata, weajai

© Text by Wikipedia, image by Pitt Rivers Museum
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