The Tsantza Celebration: Why the Shuar Shrink Heads – Indigenous Cultures in the Ecuadorian Amazon

The Tsantza Celebration: Why the Shuar Shrink Heads – Indigenous Cultures in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Written by by Maria Magdelena Kayap, Shuar.

The Tsantza Celebration

I am going to tell you about how our grandparents, with great care and respect, used to perform the tsantza celebration. After killing an enemy, the warrior cut off the victim’s head and hid himself in the forest, fasting for eight days, in order to get ready to prepare the tsantza.

The warrior prepares the tsantza in this way. He removes the skin from the head and puts it in boiling water; then he dries it slowly over hot ashes. Next he sews it shut with hot pebbles inside and shakes it. Finally, he paints the face with charcoal and very carefully molds the skin until it takes on again its natural features.

Throughout the process, the Shuar calls on Ayumpum, the spirit of life and death, so that no one takes revenge on him and so that the victim does not come to life, as he has been sacrificed so that justice be done.

When the tsantza is ready, the community begins to collect wood, to hunt, and to prepare chicha for the fiestas that will take place. The community gets together in the house indicated and one of the elders of the community, along with other warriors, stays in the patio with the one who has prepared the tsantza and is wearing it around his neck.

The women inside the house sing ujaj meset, or omens, to bring the warrior good luck and to protect him from evil, so that all memory of the killing is forgotten , so that the land of the victim remains abandoned and the weeds erase all paths around it.

One of the elders blows tobacco smoke into the warrior’s nose, so that he will not dream of death, which would be a bad omen. Then he goes to the river and the elder cuts a lock of hair and throws it into the river. After that, he puts on new clothes so that the past remains behind and he is transformed into a new creature.

The preparation of the tsantza is a religious rite, by means of which the participants ask that all evil stay away, that the lost soul of the victim be recovered, and that it be born again of a woman in the group.

In this way, justice is established once again, and the community is able to live in peace and joy. The celebration ends with singing, dancing, and a large banquet at which everyone eats as much as he can.

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