The primitive Jivaro people of the Ecuadorian Amazon are one of many headhunting cultures found throughout history, but what set them apart was their singular practice of carefully collecting each head they removed, then boiling them in a scalding pot for up to three weeks.

This process created tiny shrunken heads, an oddity made famous by explorers at the turn of the last century.  But even more strange is the Jivaro’s reason for going through such trouble.  They claimed their ancestors had faced a great demonic menace many hundreds of years before, and each generation was obligated to continue Zombie Headhuntersthe practice, or risk total tribal extinction.

We’ve already discussed the possibility that another ancient civilization of Latin America was wiped out by the undead (see: Mayan’s Destroyed by Zombies?), now ZRS Researcher, Scott LaBorde, suggests a similar set of circumstances for the Jivaro, but with a very different outcome.

“In a time of conquest, the Jivaro may well have come across a tribe already consumed by some undead plague.  Death by decapitation would not work in that case, as detached zombie heads would continue to look around, and gnash their teeth.  Much to the horror of the Jivaro, no doubt.”

LaBorde goes on to argue that the extreme ritual of sewing the eyes and mouth shut before boiling the disembodied head would be a logical step to take when faced with such a bizarre and ungodly enemy as a primitive zombie horde.  Furthermore, cooking the brain until it becomes a worthless pile of mush is no doubt an effective way to ensure any remaining life force is removed.

Because the Jivaro were known for their ferocity in battle, LaBorde concludes that they must have been able to overcome the zombie threat they faced so long ago.  But the fight left a permanent mark on the tribe, as evidenced by the tradition of head shrinking, and the dire warning passed on from one generation to the next.




  1. although its an intersting notion the shrunken heads are just the skin of the heads. the mouth and eyes were sewn shut so the small stones inside would not fall out. the human skull would not have shrunk, it has already been proven how the process is done.

  2. Has any one thought that maybe anyone who is a zombie might have been infected by a simple fever. Its possible that their body could have become to hot that their brain might have been heated beyond the capacity it could take. The infected person might have just gone insane and not realized what they should and should not eat, humans. Four of the possible zombie outbreaks have been in areas where fever have been prevalent in the past.
    The tribal extinction they were talking about might have been the fever, which is a common disease that spreads fast and in some cases is very deadly. The shrinking of the heads might have been some sort of ritual to cure the area of the disease.

  3. I am ecuadorian, i have seen the original jivaro shrunken heads, in fact they are called tzansas, i doubt that the undead exterminated the mayans, i am a huge zombie fan, but i trully doubt that the undead were here in south america eating entire civilizations. But the observation is cool indeed.

  4. You have to think, though, the process of boiling the heads was one they took for ALL kills. Let’s say it was an ancestral outbreak that caused the warning to be passed down. As an anthropologist, I have studied how easily and strangely mores and rituals can change over time. The likelihood that the “shrinking” part of the process came later, with the removal of bones and such from the head growing into the custom, rather than being there from the start. Yet, to assume every victim whose head was “shrunk” was a zombie is to assume decades or more of constant besiegement by various numbers of zombies. I think in the historical sense, meaning historical to THEM, it actually is a pretty sound theory.

  5. This theory I find has little staying power. Ther proper proces to shrink a head actualy removes all bone and flesh from the inside of the corpses head so the brain is still intact. the shrunken heads are only the outside skin and hair. I would say the practice of shrinking heads would actually be another way of exposing living flesh to the Zombie virus during the defleshing pricess.

  6. Minor question….wouldn’t the zombie rip through its own lips if they were tied shut while the head was still gnashing? Not to mention the inherent danger of working around zombie blood and those teeth.

    Though, a simple wooden gag until the lips are pierced would work. Then the twine would just be pulled shut. And to keep from ripping the twine until dead, they could have wrapped the head and cooked it that way.

    Something to research: other tribal customs regarding potential zombie occurances. I’m just wondering if it were undead that wiped out the Mayans, did they start there or did the undead start in South America and travel upwards and the tribes that survived are the head hunter ones we see today.

    • Well, to the Jivaro people this might have been more of a safeguard.
      They had already cooked the heads, but why would they consider the possibility that sewing the eyes and mouth shut wouldn’t work?
      If the shrinking of the head was effective, than certainly they considered the sewing to be equally effective.
      I think it depends on if the eyes and mouth were shut after or before the boiling.

  7. thats interesting

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