The Head Hunting, Beer Loving People of the Sacred Waterfall
Who are the Jivaro?
The six Jivaro Indian tribes are spread out across the Oriente of Ecuador. These native South Americans are notorious for three things: Headhunting, beer drinking, and resisting the encroachment of the outside world.
More Wives Means More Beer
Beer is an important part of Jivaro life, and an important chore is the making of that beer by the Jivaro women. A Jivaro household generally consists of nine members: one man, two wives, several children, and possibly an older relative or unmarried brother. The man of each household must protect, hunt, fish, clear forest, and cut firewood for his family. The wives are in charge of agriculture, cooking, the animals, the children, and beer making. (As with any truly civilized and enlightened culture, women are given the important tasks.) The rest of the family assists in these tasks, sons help fathers while daughters help mothers. Jivaro tribes regularly practice polygamy. More wives means more beer.
Sweet manioc constitutes a large portion of the Jivaro diet. Manioc is used to make manioc beer, and the Jivaro drink a lot of beer. It is prepared by Jivaro women in large quantities and must ferment for four or five days to reach its maximum alcoholic content. The root is peeled and washed then boiled. Once soft, it is mashed. During this process, the women chew handfuls of the root and spit it back into the mixture. This mastication is essential to the brew. Finally, it is secured in a large clay jar and left to ferment. When it is served, it is poured through a sieve to remove the manioc fibers. Michael Harner in his book, People of the Sacred Waterfalls, estimates that an adult male consumes three to four gallons of manioc beer in one day. Let me repeat that. Three or four gallons of beer a day! One wonders how much they drink when they really party hearty. The wives drink one or two gallons and a children will typically drink a half-gallon of the manioc beer. It plays an important part in rituals as well as everyday life.
The Shrinking of Heads
The Jivaro Indians are often studied out of sick fascination. Although raids on their enemies at one time did occur twice monthly, today the practice is very limited. In some situations, the head of a tree sloth is used in place of a human's. Commercial trade of shrunken heads early this century placed Jivaro Indians in a world spotlight for their gruesome practices. The Jivaro process for shrinking a human head is described below from M. Harner's books People of the Sacred Waterfalls . Not for the faint of heart.
"The process of preparing a tsantsa (shrunken head) has a number of steps. With the aid of a machete or a steel knife, the victim's skin is peeled back from the uppermost part of his chest, shoulders and back, and the head and neck are cut off as close as possible to the collarbone...here he makes a slit up the rear of the head and carefully cuts the skin from the skull and throws the latter into the river as a gift to the anaconda. The skin is boiled for half an hour. It then is dried. Then the skin is again scraped....the slit in the rear is sewn...Heated stones or sand then is rolled around in the head...Three pins are put through the lips and lashed with string. The skin is rubbed daily with charcoal so it will become blackened..."
In total, the practice of head-shrinking may take up to six days and results in a head the size of a man's fist. The tsantsa is hung from the killer's neck at the feast celebrating their victories.
Beer Church recognizes the ancient ways of the Jivaro as being truly sacred. Their dedication to their way of life is certainly admirable. Their dedication to their beer is absolutely beautiful.