Friday, July 24, 2009
From: leicester Murcury
Deep in the tropical Amazon rainforest, there's a huge bare patch of nothing among all the green lushness of it all, writes Sian Brewis.
Brown, dusty, barren, it's where the mining companies arrived to extract gold – until they were stopped by warrior Marcela and his mates.
"If you don't get out," they chanted, all 200 of them, "We will fight you and shrink your heads."
Forget chaining yourself to a tree and touchy feely environmental protests – this seems the perfect way of seeing off any big bad conglomerates.
Marcela would have done it, too, he tells an impressed Piers Gibbon, detailing a gruesome ritual which sounds more at home in an H Rider Haggard novel.
Come to think of it, adventure's pretty much the whole tone of Revealed: The Headshrinkers of the Amazon (Five, 8pm).
Piers – who's less chatty and inclined to "get-down-with-the-tribe" than Bruce Parry, but sweet nonetheless – has flown to Ecuador to try to find out whether a film made by an explorer in 1961 really does show a head shrinking ceremony.
We see the film. It's fascinating. And there's even a step by step guide to how to do it, right down to boiling times (30 minutes, in case you were wondering) and the tricky problem of how to sew it up.
Warriors in red and yellow head-dresses, and bamboo sticks through their ears, are chanting, dancing and smiling for the cameras.
Shrunken heads, or tsantas, are really creepy looking things, too – titchy stitched up heads with tufts of hair, like little troll dolls. Collectors pay up to £20,000 for them.
We meet Natalie, curator of a tsanta museum, who strokes the little heads every day and talks to them.
"I'm asking the spirit to stay inside," she explains, stroking another shrivelled little head.
"It doesn't like to be touched by anybody else but me."Piers and his guide head off in search of the headshrinking Shuar tribe, down rivers, through jungles and uncovering tales of murder and assassinations all connected to the little heads.
In a Shuar village, Piers isn't too sure how well the footage is going to go down, what with people seeing ancestors shrinking human heads and all.
He needn't have worried.
People watch fascinated as dead friends and relatives are brought back to life through the flickering film.
He goes to find the oldest man in the village. He doesn't really listen to Piers' questions, he's in his own world, watching the screen.
At first he looks really sad, then he smiles, slowly. "This is my brother," he says, movingly.
Oddly, the headshrinking video wasn't the weirdest bit.
That came in a chat between Piers and an Ecuadorian priest, Padre Siro. Asked whether he'd ever seen a head shrinking ceremony, he said no.
Then he thought for a bit. "I have seen the process on a sloth." The mind boggles.