The Tzantzas and the truth behind them
Posted On 19 May 2017
Tzantza, an ancient practice of reducing heads of the Shuar and Achuar peoples, who inhabited the southern Amazon jungle of Ecuador, is a myth, an enigma that is still to be discovered.
Until now it has been said that the warriors cut off the heads of their enemies and took them as trophies of war or amulets. But there is another version. It took years for Tamara Landívar, an anthropologist, and curator of the National Ethnography Fund, to discover it. “The elders tell that the rite of the tzantza was done when a Shuar killed another, a kind of social exemplary, whose simile is the death penalty,” she explains.
Three of those small heads are part of an exhibition in Quito (in the Metropolitan Cultural Center) dedicated to the ethnographic wealth that was hoarded by private hands for years.
The objectives are to demystify the idea that the Amazon was a barren and savage field, according to Maria Elena Bedoya, one of the curators, and to discard the exoticism that surrounds the Amazonian peoples, which has been described in the past by anthropologists such as Swedish Rafael Karsten (I).