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Tag: Shuar

5

A Price on Their Heads

Ever since my aunt lifted me up to a glass case at the back of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, at the impressionable age of eight, I have been hooked on shrunken heads.

Like so many schoolboys before me, my lower jaw dropped as I gazed in awe at the array of miniature human heads, correctly known as tsantsas. There was something wholly captivating about their gnarled features, the sewn lips, little hollow necks and manes of jet black hair.

I longed to learn the secret processes, known to a tribe deep in the South American jungle, which enabled decapitated human heads to be shrunk to the size of a grapefruit.

Despite an ongoing debate about whether museums should harbour human remains, the Pitt Rivers Museum still holds five, and the British Museum has at least ten. Interest in the gruesome exhibits remains strong. A roaring private trade in the illicit handicraft has developed, with heads being snapped up by wealthy collectors, many from the Far East and Japan.

The genuine article comes from the Upper Amazon, a region on the Pastaza river between Peru and Ecuador.

To continue reading, please see my article at Explorers Connect.

10

My Top Ten Favourite Museums

My top ten list of museums around the world.

  1. Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. Fav object: the shrunken heads.
  2. Sir John Soane Museum, London. Fav object: the sarcophagus of Seti I
  3. Hunterian Museum, London. Fav object, the giant’s skeleton.
  4. Mutter Museum, Philadelphia. Fav object: Hyrtl Skull Collection.
  5. Dog Collar Museum, Maidstone. Spiked hunting collars from 16th century .
  6. Parasite Museum, Tokyo. Fav object: all of them.
  7. Sedlec Ossurary, Czech Republic. Fav object: the chandelier fashioned from human bones.
  8. Barbed Wire Museum, Kansas. Fav object: the selection of razor wires.
  9. International Toilet Museum, Delhi. Fav object: the Japanese toilets.
  10. Avanos Hair Museum, Turkey. Fav object: the caverns full of hair.

 

What are your favourite museums? Have you been to any of these?

4
June 12, 2008 Posted by tahir in Travel

Thursday's child

On some days I sit here alone hour after hour, fingertips striking keys, my mind in a twilight zone far away. When one of the guardians creeps in and stands to attention, or when the phone rings and I have to answer it, I find there’s an abyss between where I am and the real world. It’s something that fills me with awe, and troubles me all the same.

Sometimes I find I am so deep in a story, so detached, that my soul has become separated from my body. Or that’s how it feels. It reminds me of ‘Susto’, the Latin idea that a sharp noise, a jolt, can rip one from the other… with the terrible fear that they can never be rejoined. But with me there’s no jolt, rather a gradual descent, a slow and even deviation. I can hardly explain it, but have come to know it’s something of extreme value… a way of reaching another world, the real world.
My little son, Timur, will be five in less than a month. There’s a quality about him that I wish could always stay there, inside him, without being knocked out. It’s the quality of pure innocence and  a natural human genius — something that the adult world strives to destroy as soon as a child has entered school. Our world regards it — a way of appreciating and processing the fantastic — as a thing of evil, a faculty to be replaced surgically with the ability of  cold, clinical thought. Timur still has it though… only just… a mind that embraces fact and fantasy as one and the same, two inseparable elements.
Ariane is seven and a half and she’s lost it. You can’t tell her a tale, a fairy story, without her having to establish whether it’s fiction or fact. And she insists that we have to make clear, one or the other. ‘It’s a little of both,’ I sometimes say. And when I do, Ariane’s face sours with rage. ‘It can’t be!’ she snaps. ‘Because you can’t have both!’
I have travelled with tribes and so-called ‘primitive’ peoples who are, as you would imagine, far more brilliant than us. Their souls are still attached, their minds screwed on right in their heads. I once spent months with the Machiagenga and the Shuar peoples of Peru, and learned to appreciate an ancient and natural way of thought that is the default setting within us all. The longer I spent with them, and the more I came to know of their customs and ideas, the more I understood how terribly misguided we are.
It sounds like basic criticism, a cliche, the sort of thing that’s fashionable to say. But it’s not. Not really. Instead, it’s something that we can all relearn… a little bit at a time. When Timur makes Lego, something he likes very much indeed, he slams some bricks together and, when asked that stupid adult question ‘what is it?’, he fumbles, then says, ‘an elephant.’ A moment later he adds a red brick to the top, and christens it ‘an aeroplane’, and after that ‘it’s mummy.’ 
Of course it is, and that’s how it should be. And we all — all of us — can learn from that, from the default setting that little Timur and every other four-year-old in our world is desperate danger of losing — his imagination.
TS