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Head Hunting

Head hunting is the practice of cutting off and preserving the head of a fallen enemy. Numerous peoples have employed head hunting as a part of warfare from ancient times all the way into the 20th century. In Europe, it was practiced in the Balkans until the early 20th century. Head hunting often had religious or magical beliefs associated with it.

Most head hunting tribes thought the soul was concentrated in the head and that taking an enemy's head weakened the enemy's community while strengthening the community of one's family. The victorious hunters claimed the heads as trophies and displayed them to help intimidate enemies and potential enemies. Amongst the tribe, the heads were seen as tokens of courage and manhood. In many societies that practiced head hunting, young men weren't allowed to marry until they had taken their first head.

Head hunters preserved, or mummified, their trophies in numerous ways. In New Guinea, both the skull and skin were preserved. Among the Jivaro of the Amazon area of South America, the skin alone was preserved and produced a "shrunken head" about the size of an orange.

The arrival of Westerners is believed to have increased head hunting in the Jivaro community in particular. Europeans, ever fascinated by violence, would purchase the curiously shrunken heads. These curio-hunters traded firearms and ammunition to the tribesmen and sold the heads to collectors. The Jivaro, seeing a market, were all too happy to provide, and thus tribal warfare between neighboring tribes increased. Eventually, the Ecuadorian and Peruvian governments passed laws to ban the export of human heads.





Related resources:

History of the Shuar