Lot No. 284


Shuar (or Jivaro), Equador: A ‘Tsantsa’ shrunken head, with long hair, tied up mouth, and carrying strap. 19th century.


Shuar (or Jivaro), Equador: A ‘Tsantsa’ shrunken head, with long hair, tied up mouth, and carrying strap. 19th century. - Tribal Art

The tribal group of the Shuar, formerly also known as ‘Jivaro’, lived on the eastern slopes of the Andes, in the three-country crossroads of Equador, Peru and north west Brazil. The Shuar are the only people in the world who once traditionally produced shrunken heads (up until the 19th century). The reason for this custom lies in the belief system of the Shuar. They believe that every human can possess three souls:
1: The innate soul, which one cannot influence. After the death of the individual, this becomes a cloud in the heavens.
2: The second soul, the ‘Arutam’, the most important soul for the warriors of the Shuar. One can and must attain this ‘Arutam soul’ oneself. This is accomplished via ceremonies at ‘sacred sites’, via ascetism and visions.
Subsequently, this acquired ‘Arutam soul’ must be multiplied and increased. This is done by killing other, enemy Shuar warriors, whose ‘Arutam souls’ are then taken over. In this fashion, one becomes a ‘great man’, a ‘Kakaram.’ This conception of souls is the actual reason for the head-hunting of the Shuar.
3: At the moment of death of a victim of head-hunting, the dangerous vengeful soul (‘Muisak wakani’) develops in the body. Therefore, the head of the victim must be processed into a shrunken head as quickly as possible. This occurs in the following manner: The head was separated at the neck from the body, and the skin including the hair pulled from the bones. Skin and hair were boiled for a long time in a special plant liquid. By these means, the skin shrank to about a third of its original size. The hair maintained its original length.
Then the skin was filled with hot sand creating a now fist-sized ‘head’, and a ‘new’ face was formed. The ‘Tsantsa’ was dried over a fire and the leather-hard, stiff skin was finally polished black with soot.
The carrying strap was then mounted on the crown of the head, and the lips were firmly stitched up in three places with cotton cords. This was done to ensure that the revengeful soul could not emerge and do harm to the killer and his community.
The killer then returned with his ‘Tsantsa’ to his home village, where the acquisition, multiplication or increase of his ‘Arutam soul’ was celebrated with great ceremonies and dances around the shrunken head.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Shuar abandoned head-hunting and with it the production of shrunken heads. At the same time, ‘Tsantsa’ became particularly favoured collectors’ items, especially in North America. For this reason there are today many more fake shrunken heads than real ones in collections and on the art market (made out of animal skin and other things). Authentic 'Tsantsa' such as this one are today very rare.
19th century; H: 12 cm (skull only), c. 30 cm (total).

Provenance: 168th Auction at Ketterer Art Auctioners, Munich, 14 December 1991, Lot 700; German Private Collection. (ME)

Lit.:'Shrunken Heads' by J. L. Castner, with many photographs.

Specialist: Erwin Melchardt Erwin Melchardt
+43-1-515 60-465

erwin.melchardt@dorotheum.at

26.05.2015 - 15:00

Realized price: **
EUR 32,500.-
Estimate:
EUR 6,000.- to EUR 7,000.-

Shuar (or Jivaro), Equador: A ‘Tsantsa’ shrunken head, with long hair, tied up mouth, and carrying strap. 19th century.


The tribal group of the Shuar, formerly also known as ‘Jivaro’, lived on the eastern slopes of the Andes, in the three-country crossroads of Equador, Peru and north west Brazil. The Shuar are the only people in the world who once traditionally produced shrunken heads (up until the 19th century). The reason for this custom lies in the belief system of the Shuar. They believe that every human can possess three souls:
1: The innate soul, which one cannot influence. After the death of the individual, this becomes a cloud in the heavens.
2: The second soul, the ‘Arutam’, the most important soul for the warriors of the Shuar. One can and must attain this ‘Arutam soul’ oneself. This is accomplished via ceremonies at ‘sacred sites’, via ascetism and visions.
Subsequently, this acquired ‘Arutam soul’ must be multiplied and increased. This is done by killing other, enemy Shuar warriors, whose ‘Arutam souls’ are then taken over. In this fashion, one becomes a ‘great man’, a ‘Kakaram.’ This conception of souls is the actual reason for the head-hunting of the Shuar.
3: At the moment of death of a victim of head-hunting, the dangerous vengeful soul (‘Muisak wakani’) develops in the body. Therefore, the head of the victim must be processed into a shrunken head as quickly as possible. This occurs in the following manner: The head was separated at the neck from the body, and the skin including the hair pulled from the bones. Skin and hair were boiled for a long time in a special plant liquid. By these means, the skin shrank to about a third of its original size. The hair maintained its original length.
Then the skin was filled with hot sand creating a now fist-sized ‘head’, and a ‘new’ face was formed. The ‘Tsantsa’ was dried over a fire and the leather-hard, stiff skin was finally polished black with soot.
The carrying strap was then mounted on the crown of the head, and the lips were firmly stitched up in three places with cotton cords. This was done to ensure that the revengeful soul could not emerge and do harm to the killer and his community.
The killer then returned with his ‘Tsantsa’ to his home village, where the acquisition, multiplication or increase of his ‘Arutam soul’ was celebrated with great ceremonies and dances around the shrunken head.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Shuar abandoned head-hunting and with it the production of shrunken heads. At the same time, ‘Tsantsa’ became particularly favoured collectors’ items, especially in North America. For this reason there are today many more fake shrunken heads than real ones in collections and on the art market (made out of animal skin and other things). Authentic 'Tsantsa' such as this one are today very rare.
19th century; H: 12 cm (skull only), c. 30 cm (total).

Provenance: 168th Auction at Ketterer Art Auctioners, Munich, 14 December 1991, Lot 700; German Private Collection. (ME)

Lit.:'Shrunken Heads' by J. L. Castner, with many photographs.

Specialist: Erwin Melchardt Erwin Melchardt
+43-1-515 60-465

erwin.melchardt@dorotheum.at


Buyers hotline Mon.-Fri.: 9.00am - 6.00pm
kundendienst@dorotheum.at

+43 1 515 60 200
Auction: Tribal Art
Date: 26.05.2015 - 15:00
Location: Vienna | Palais Dorotheum
Exhibition: 20.05. - 26.05.2015


** Purchase price incl. charges and taxes

It is not possible to turn in online buying orders anymore. The auction is in preparation or has been executed already.