Review: EXPEDITION WEEK: ‘Search for the Amazon Head Shrinkers’, Sunday, November 15 at 9PM ET/PT

So I go home for lunch. There’s a package from National Geographic there – they’re doing their ‘Second Annual Expedition Week‘, and they’ve sent me pre-screening versions of the documentaries to review.

My wife says, ‘let’s watch this one as we eat’. Sure!

(We’re eating lasagna. This is important.)

We slip it in, begin to watch. Ok, Rain forest – the Amazon, ok, cool, here comes the title: ‘In Search of the Shrunken Heads of the Amazon’. Footage continues. What’s that in the pot? Oh… a head. yep. Definitely a head being stewed woops – they’re holding it up…

My wife says, ‘would you like some more lasagna?’

From the press info:

Terrifying legends from the Amazon tell of Indian headshrinkers who would shrink an enemy’s head to render the vengeful soul powerless. Now, NGC has exclusive U.S. access to 45-year-old archive footage captured by explorer Edmundo Bielawski, purportedly the only known footage that shows the process of an actual,  recently deceased, human head being shrunk. Author and explorer Piers Gibbon heads deep into the Amazon jungle in an attempt to trace Bielawski?s 1960s journey, rediscover the exact location where this scene was filmed and reconnect with the tribe today. After a string of setbacks, Gibbon finally gets a striking clue that leads him on an arduous trek to the village of Tukupi, where he finds one aging warrior, the last of his generation, who could provide answers to the mystery once and for all.

shrunken head

This was a fascinating documentary. What I found most interesting were the things dealt with only tangentially in the film. The point of the film was to try to verify the authenticity of the footage from the ’60s – fair enough, and in its way, compelling. But what was particularly intriguing was the way the practice of head-shrinking continued to play a role in the modern community, most notably as a totem of the peoples’ strength.  ‘A shrunken head is a beautiful thing’ remarks one of them. In a darker turn, it seems that some amongst them are still shrinking heads to service a burgeoning market amongst western collectors. I would have liked to have seen more about this, but as the film hints, this is a very dark and dangerous road indeed. Apparently there have been murders and graverobbing to provide the raw …materials… for the trade. A quick search on eBay suggests that these things can in fact be had rather easily (though the link above says that ‘these’ heads are made from animal skins).

Which makes me wonder about some of Nat Geo’s promotional materials –

…but I wondered the same thing about last year’s Expedition Week game, which seemed to promote looting, as I recall. I haven’t checked out this year’s game yet:



But, those concerns aside, one of the best National Geographic documentaries I’ve seen in ages.


EXPEDITION WEEK: ‘Search for the Amazon Head Shrinkers’ airs Sunday, November 15 at 9PM ET/PT