Rare Headshrinking Footage Confirmed?

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November 13, 2009—What could be the only footage of an actual human headshrinking ceremony in South America--which shows heads being boiled and dried--may be real, says an explorer in a new documentary.

Warning: Video contains graphic images.© 2009 National Geographic; Video from Nat Geo Channel

Unedited Transcript:

The National Geographic Channel has obtained what may be the only existing footage of an actual human head-shrinking ceremony in South America.

SOUND: Deep within the worlds largest rain forest live a people that once practiced the infamous ritual.. of head-shrinking.

In its special, author and explorer Piers Gibbon set out to find out if the film is genuine.

The film was made in 1961 by Polish Explorer Edmundo Bielawski, who, with a team of seven, set out to explore and document the worlds largest rain forest: The Amazon.

Head-shrinking was only practiced by one portion of the Amazon jungle-dwelling population- the Shuar. Headshrinking was a form of summary justice carried out on enemies. The shrinking process was deemed necessary to stop the victims evil spirit from seeking revenge.

Gibbon describes the process with a re-creation:

SOUNDBITE: Gibbon Firstly the back of the head would be opened. The skin is sliced free from the skull. Care is taken not to damage the facial features. The skull and remaining flesh is removed. The skin is then boiled in water for half an hour. Any longer and the hair may fall out. After being dried in the sun, the skin is turned inside out.

The process is repeated and can take up to six days, until the head is a quarter of its original size.

SOUNDBITE: Firstly the eyes are sewn shut, preventing the victims spirit from seeing out. Wooden pins are placed through the lips and lashed together with string. This stops the soul from asking for their death to be avenged.

Gibbon speaks with a Catholic missionary who has lived there since the 1960s.

SOUNDBITE: How did you explain the the Shuar that they must stop taking vengeance themselves?

He confirms head-shrinking was still occurring during that time, making it possible Bielawski filmed a genuine ceremony.

And, he meets the alleged only surviving warrior from the period. He shows him the film, and the old man confirms his own brother is in the footage.

SOUND: GIBBON He and his brother were separated by the war, but he does know that this brother was involved in Tsantsa ceremonies. After speaking with Tsanimp it seems that Bielawski did filming in this area, but I cant be certain he shot the head-shrinking scene in Tukupi. But having confirmed that Kampurims involvement, it really is possible that Bielawski filmed the only existing footage of a head-shrinking ceremony in progress.

The special, Search for the Amazon Headshrinkers, premieres on the National Geographic Channel Sunday November 15th, 9pm Eastern.

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