How To Shrink A Human Head

15 Feb 1953, Ecuador --- Original caption: A medicine man holding a shrunken head, instructs two youths in the duty of members of the Jivaro tribe. They kill "enemies" of neighboring tribes in a ritual of vengeance, but would not harm a wandering stranger. Head of victim cut off, skull bones are removed and skin shrunken by secret process. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Step 1. Make a deep vertical incision is made into the skull.

Remove the skull. Many people do not realize that the skull is no longer part of a shrunken head.

Step 2.  Peel the skin (and flesh) back from the skull. The skin and flesh are then removed.

Step 3.  Seeds or pebbles are placed beneath the eyes and the eyelids are sewn shut. The mouth is pinned with wooden pegs.

Step 4. Turn the skin inside out and scrape away all the fat and subcutaneous tissue.


Step 5.  A wooden ball is placed inside the head to help retain the “head shape”.

Step 6.  The shrinking process begins with the head being boiled in water saturated with herbs.

Step 7. The boiled head is then dried using sand and hot rocks. Simultaneously, the head is molded retain its human features.

Step 8. The skin is then blackened with charcoal ash. (The custom of coating the skin in ash was an attempt to help keep the avenging soul (muisak) from leaking out.

Step 9. Finally, the eyes and mouth are sewn shut.

Step 10. Some heads can be decorated with beads and feathers.