The program retraces the journey of explorer Edmundo Bielawski, who returned from the Amazon in the 1960s with film of a human head-shrinking ceremony featuring a recently deceased person’s actual head. (Purportedly, this is the only authentic footage of such a ceremony that’s known to exist.) The NatGeo Channel obtained an exclusive license to broadcast Bielawski’s archival footage.
The Shuar people of Ecuador and Peru shrank the heads of enemies to render them powerless, to gain authority over their wives and children, and to prevent their souls from taking vengeance. The process, as documented by Bielawski, was elaborate.
The fascination of Europeans and Americans with shrunken heads (called tsantsa in the Shuar language) during the late 19th and early 20th centuries may have increased local warfare, as warriors sought heads for trade.
Now there’s a safer, easier way: The Channel’s online Headshrinker lets you see how you, your friends and loved ones, and your favorite (or not-so-favorite) celebrities and politicians might look in portable tsantsa form.
Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers premieres at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time Sunday night on the National Geographic Channel.