A human head that has been severed and prepared is called in Voodoo practices, a shrunken head. It is used for trading, trophy or ritual.
The practice of head hunting happened in many areas of the world, but actual head shrinking has only happened in the northwestern Amazon rain forest. The Shuar, Aguaruna, Achuar and Huambia are the tribes best known for shrinking heads, with the Shuar leading the field. This group is known as the Jivaroan people of Peru and Ecuador. Within the Shuar the shrunken head is called a tsantsa.
Following World War II, they found shrunken heads at Buchenwald Concentration Camps believed to be some of the prisoners being held there. One of these shrunken heads was presented as evidence at the Nuremburg Trials, but none of those on trial was ever charged with this crime.
Believed to keep the soul from getting revenge after death, the practice of shrinking heads had some religious basis. This also was a warning to potential enemies. Later the shrunken heads were used in their religious ceremonies to celebrate victories of a tribe. No on knows what they did with them after the ceremonies. At the beginning, deaths from conflict were few, so not very many shrunken heads, however, supply and demand kicked in through trading and tourists, so the number of shrunken heads increased considerably. In the 1930’s a shrunken head cost about $25 and they were exchanged freely.
Importing shrunken heads into the United States has been against the law since the 1940’s.
So, like I’ve said before, I’m totally obsessed with this show on The History Channel called Stan Lee’s Superhumans. On the very first episode, they featured this guy named Gino Martino (actually his name is John Ferraro) who can break stuff over his head. And not just boards and stuff like that. Try steel beams. Check this out:
How, oh how, is this possible? The beams aren’t fake, that’s one thing. And this guy’s amazing head-butt powers are further examined on the History Channel show. He breaks a cinderblock by placing the cinderblock on his head and having someone drop a BOWLING BALL on it. He breaks another cinderblock by having someone hit it with a sledgehammer. Most of these activities would kill someone, or at least seriously scramble their brains, but Gino/John is able to do this with little side effects. No, it’s not super easy for him, but he can shake it off pretty quickly.
So, after doing the tests and things on this guy, the show’s scientists or doctors or whatever discovered that this guy’s skull is, like, 14.5 mm thick. The average man’s skull is about 6.5 mm thick, which means that Dudester here has a skull that is over twice as thick as an average skull. How completely cool is that?
Unfortunately for Gino/John, his SKIN isn’t super thick, so when he does things like breaking metal over his head, or hammering a big nail into a board with his forehead, he still gets a little bloody.
But despite his tendency to get all gory, John Ferraro is actually sort of a superhuman. He has a super thick skull, which makes this self-proclaimed “Head Butt King” exceptional. Stan Lee named him “The Human Anvil,” and we’re all sort of hoping he gets his own book, right?
Today, if you visit a fair or a carnival, you’re not likely to see “human wonders,” aka “sideshow freaks” like you did in the 20′s, 30′s, and 40′s. For one, exploitation isn’t as cool as it used to be, and for two, now we have the Jim Rose Circus, so that pays better and you make cooler friends.
It’s fun to learn. There was this guy, Martin Emmerling, who changed his name to Martin Laurello. That’s not the interesting part. He changed his name when he moved to the good old US of A in 1921. He had a special talent in that he could turn his head a full 180 degrees. What?!?!? See for yourself:
That’s crazy! How is that possible? I can’t tell you for sure because the internet didn’t tell me, but it was likely some genetic predisposition that Laurello cultivated into an “act.” He started performing in Europe, and then when he moved to the US he toured with Dreamland circus, Barnum & Bailey, and Ripley’s Odditorium. He had this strange little pamphlet wherein he told people about what he could do. He said that it took him three years to perfect his “act.”
It is funny that he is encouraging people to try to do what he does. IF (and it’s a big if) someone was able to accomplish this, without Laurello’s funky spine situation, it would likely kill them, whether they did it before or after breakfast. But, at least he wasn’t being stingy with the knowledge and stuff.