Friday, July 31, 2009

Bad luck? Try sewing your lips shut

A note from Kat: This is probably the strangest blog post I'll ever write. Don't let it scare you.


It seemed like a minor car accident, a fender-bender in a parking lot. But two weeks later, my sister’s husband nearly died from ruptured spleen.

Shortly after that, my sister suffered a health-related emergency that landed her in surgery. Less than a week after that, a freak electrical glitch caused their house to catch fire.

I remember her asking, “Why do we have such bad luck?”
Then one day, as a friend pulled out of their driveway, she happened to notice something strange.

The friend asked my sister if they had noticed the upside-down horseshoe hanging on their privacy fence.

They hadn’t. In fact, my sister – whose family had only recently moved into the house – hadn’t even noticed it was there.

Now, my sister claims she’s not a superstitious person. But considering the string of bad luck their family had endured, she wasn’t willing to tempt fate. So, she removed the horseshoe.

Jay Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn., is a little more brave. Conrad has been collecting shrunken heads – another source of superstition – since 1983.

He knows the warning. He told Michael Lollar of Scripps Howard News Service he knows shrunken heads might come with a curse, but he doesn’t believe the stories about evil spirits contained in the remains of South African jungle tribesmen.

Nevermind that Conrad, himself, divorced and went bankrupt within a year and a half of purchasing his first one. Nevermind that a friend, a 17-year military veteran, suddenly received a dishonorable discharge and also got a divorce and lost his four children shortly after Conrad gave him the head.

The “bad luck” that befell him and his buddy didn’t keep Conrad from buying and selling dozens of shrunken heads over the years. (In fact, it’s kind of brought him good luck; Conrad sold one for $40,000 last year.)

Now, everyone who has seen the movie Beetlejuice has seen a shrunken head and probably remembers this guy . .

Personally, I never understood (or cared to understand) what a shrunken head was until I ran across Lollar’s story on the wire. Here’s the scoop from Lollar's article:
“In the late 1800s and early 1900s, white traders offered guns in exchange for true trophy heads among the Jivaro Indian tribes of Ecuador and Peru.“The heads were called ‘tsantsas’ and were a rare find until demand grew, spurring tribal warfare, murders and grave-robbing.The governments of those countries banned importation of tsantsas to the United States in 1940, and protests by Indians in the last 15 years have caused some U.S. museums to ‘repatriate’ heads to their native countries.”
A true tsantsa was usually made from the head of a rival tribeman by removing the flesh from the skull. The skin and hair were then boiled in water, causing the flesh to shrink. Then the skin was sewn and filled with hot sand or pebbles, smoked like a ham and then preserved by having tree sap rubbed on it. After his “luck” with his first shrunken head,

Conrad told Lollar he learn that the lips should be sewn together or sealed with wooden pegs in order to keep the spirit “of the potentially vengeful victim” from getting out and making trouble.
Shrunken heads were used for ceremonies intended to tame the spirit of an enemy and to keep him from seeking revence after his death. Conrad told Lollar: “Once the ceremony was over, they would sometimes give them to their children to play with or feed them to the hogs.”

While I have been known to knock wood, I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but I can certainly see why a spirit would be “potentially vengeful.”
Again, wow.
Aren’t primitive cultures and superstitions fascinating? Do you have any superstitions?


Eva Gallant said...

That was truly bizarre!!

Linda Sandifer said...

There's a book idea here somewhere. :)

Cole Gibsen said...

Creepy - but fascinating!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow - super interesting! I actually read an article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back about how Ripley's Believe It Or Not is having a hard time acquiring enough weird stuff to fill all the museums they have opened all over the world and one of the specific things mentioned was the shortage of shrunken heads these days. Who knew they were such an in-demand item?

Kat Harris said...

Linda -- OK, now you've got the gears turning. :-)

Kate -- If you click on the link to Michael Lollar, it will take you to his original story on Scripps Howard. In it, he mentions how the Ripley's museum has one of the largest collections of shrunken heads, but what you said is true, they are in serious shortage. I'm curious.

Eva and Cole -- Isn't it though? I always thought shrunken heads were just something from movies. It's like that train wreck -- you don't want to look, but you can't turn away. :-)

Thanks for visiting!

TerriRainer said...

Good stuff Kat...the bizarre, always works for me.

:) Terri

Anonymous said...

I inherited my father's 1991 Chevy Silverado pickup,which was immaculately garage kept and maintained.
I have safe driver awards from DPS and the lowest insurance rate possible,but after buying a rubber shrunken head and hanging it from my rearview mirror I was in a bad accident.
The wreck was odd because the speed limit was 65 and I was going 60 with safe distance between other drivers until the ones in front of me suddenly stopped and I was forced to hit the vehicle in front of me.This completely destroyed my truck and luckily only bruised me internally and cracked a rib or two,but could have been far worse.The condition of the truck required me to be rushed to a trauma care facility.
My girlfriend instantly knew it was the shrunken head and as I've driven this road and truck for quite a while without incident,it does make me wonder.I have not and will not put the head in another vehicle and she asks that I dispose of it.Anybody else have bad mojo from a shrunken head?