Author: Irena Frīdenšteina
After a week-long journey through Arnuchal Pradesh region, we are heading towards the neighboring Nagaland. It borders with Assam and Manipur region in India, and has an external border with Myanmar. The capital city of Nagaland is Kohima, yet our final destination is Moatsu festival in Mokokchung, which lasts for 3 days and gathers one of Naga tribes - Aos. For Naga people, the festival is a time for gaiety and amusement after a hectic work period - clearing their fields, burning trees and sowing seeds. They have been cleaning wells and repairing houses.
It will be a great chance to get to know Naga people by being present at their festive occasion. Numerous quotations, which I have read about these people, will revive into a vivid and dynamic picture, brimming with sincere emotions.
Naga people possess a unique air of strength, self reliance, freedom and independence. Simultaneously, they have also safeguarded an indissoluble connection and loyalty towards their land, tribe and kin. They combine a sincere warm-heartedness towards their friends and an unyielding toughness in their fight against enemies, which is embodied in the fierce drum beat of war. They possess a phenomenal inborn sense of beauty revealed in their designs, a full-blooded expressiveness in their songs and dances, and a never waning sense of humor.
The largest Naga tribes can be divided into the three sub-groups: the northern group - Tangsa, Noche, Tutsa, Wancho; the central group - Lower Konyak, Upper Konyak, Phom, Chang, Khiamniungan, Yimchunger, Sangtam, Lainong, Macham, Haime, Ponyo, Gongvan; and the southern group - Sema, Ao, Lhota, Rengma, Pochuri, Chakhesang, Angami, Zeliangrong, Mao, Maram, Thangal, Tangkhul, Maring.
The term „Naga" was actually applied to these highlanders by the dwellers of the plains. It may be derived from the Burmese Na-Ka- „people with pierced earlobes" - or the Assamese noga - „naked". In Sanskrit literature such as the Vedas and the Mahabharata, a „golden-skinned people" named the Kiratas are said to roam the sub-Himalayan region. „Kiratas" however, refers to all non-Aryan people of Indo-Mongoloid stock; whether the Naga particular were intended is not clear. The Naga is part of Mongolic people found in areas as diverse as China, the Arctic and Amazonia.
They began to spread through south-east Asia approximately 12,000 years ago, possibly from northern China, and seem to have assimilated elements of Australoid and Negrito populations. This is seen in certain aspects of Naga culture- tools, megalithic stone settings, forked wooden posts, belief in soul matter residing in the head - as well as in physical features, e.g. occasional small size, woolly hair. Cultural and social parallels exist between Naga and Indonesian and Oceanic societies. The more than 30 different Naga tonal languages - not always understood between groups- all belong to the Tibeto-Burman subgroups of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages.
We continue our way from Jorhat town in Assam region to Mokokchung along steep serpentine roads about 1000 m above the sea level. A persistent part of the scenery are clouds floating below the road level. Wind-carried, white and fluffy, they form an ever changing picture when viewed through the lens of your camera. The landscape too changes every few kilometers - there are woods, jungle thicket, pineapple gardens and cultivated plots of land in jungle clearings, vegetable plantations and rice fields...Someplace, smoke is still streaming above the freshly cleared spots of woodland.
Historically, Naga villages are sited high in the mountains, and their farming land, too, spreads along steep mountain slopes. Fields usually serve their purpose only for 3 to 4 years, and then Nagas have to cultivate new ones. It means lots of heavy physical work - cutting of trees and the thicket of bushes, removing and burning roots and stubs. Fields are often located several tens of kilometers from home, and therefore they build temporary wooden cabins to eat there, to rest and even spend some nights there. Every single kilogram of rice is carried home in wicker baskets. In fact, everything is brought home on their shoulders - rice, vegetable and firewood. Steep and difficult terrain does not let to use any equipment, just pure physical force, and that is why people are strong, well-muscled and possess great endurance.
The Naga are hill-dwellers. Occupying hilltops or the highest possible points along a hill slope, reaching almost any of their villages is an arduous task. This settlement pattern is largely a result of the custom of headhunting, formerly prevalent throughout the Naga cultural realm. Inter-village feuds being frequent, it was necessary to situate villages out of reach of raiding parties. Hilltops, of course, provide ideal vantage points for detecting enemy activities or imminent attack. Yet, other consideration also influenced the siting of Naga villages, for instance, climate. Below 500m the climate is hot and unhealthy; above 1500m it is unpleasantly cold in winter and, during the monsoon, cloud is perpetual. Abundant springs are infrequent above 1500m and water tends to be scarce.
Since time immemorial, Naga tribes have fought among themselves. A threatening beat of large log-drum, set on a hilltop above the village warned people about approaching enemy. In one of the villages, we had a chance to marvel at the log drum which has been created and put in its place by 8632 people. The huge log had been hauled uphill for 36 days, covering the distance of 4.26 km. What a determination! At noon, we have finally reached Mokokchung, located 1325 m above the sea leval and with a population of over 4000 people. From the distance, their houses resemble Lego building blocks. The bright blue one is a bathroom. It is a simple structure covered by polythene.
Naga village patterns differ from group to group, ranging from no self-evident pattern to strict arrangements that can assume an almost terrace-house character. No 2 villages are alike. In some, houses are grouped together in a compact block and enclosed a fence or stockade; in others they may be scattered in clusters, interspersed with vegetable plots and bamboo groves. The same way as in Arnuchal Pradesh, a hearth is a centerpiece of Naga lodgings, and the family life circles around it. Only scarce rays of sunlight that squeeze through the bamboo walls lighten the house, while the smoke escapes through roofing.
Naga villages are dividend in 2 or more khels (quarters, wards), depending on size and population. The centre of each khel is the morung. This remarkable and most prominent house in the village gives visual, institutional and architectural expression to the solidarity of clan members. While morungs are only rarely used now as adolescent dormitories, they are still meeting places and reception and entertainment houses for guests. Important decisions are often taken there. As institutional village centers, morungs were ideal focal points for attackers. Those who controlled the morung controlled the people.
The morungs are big buildings, usually constructed at the village entrance or a spot from where the village can be guarded most effectively. On attaining the age of puberty, young boys and girls were admitted to their respective dormitories. Christian missionaries understood this intuitively and made every effort to destroy them and to erect churches instead. Apart from innumerable clashes between Naga underground groups and the Indian army, the burning of morungs instigated by Christian missionaries brought irreparable losses to the Naga cultural heritage. With the onset of modernity, the Morung system is no longer in practice among the Tribes.
Most Naga groups had girl's dormitories. Educationally, they are where girls learn everything to do with household and agricultural affairs, as well as the arts of singing and dancing, while, publicly speaking, they function mainly as meeting places for young couples, married and unmarried. So-called "love-houses" are also known from from certain Burmese Naga groups - one example in Tsawlaw Naukkon was reported to have some thirty cubicles for couples. Admission to the girl's dormitory takes place when girl reaches puberty.
Moatsu festival in Mokokchung
Mokokchung is economically and politically the most important town in Northern Nagaland and also a cultural center of the Ao people. Moatsu festival gathers Aos from the entire neighbourhood. Again we have to get registered at the local police department, and our guide Kevin sincerely apologizes for the trouble. Like in Arnuchal Pradesh, also Nagaland has a security checkpoint system, and we are supposed to show up at each checkpoint, otherwise it would cause serious problems to the travel agency, which organized our trip. As soon as we have filled our duty, we head straight to the best hotel in the town - "Tourist Lodge", where we plan to stay for 3 nights. The festival is attended by government officials, ministers and other dignitaries, and as we are staying at the best hotel in the town, we are involuntarily sharing it with all those VIPs.
The courtyard of the hotel is packed with some 30 government jeeps, and the place is swarming with well-armed militaries and impressive body guards. Inside the hotel almost on every step, we meet well-off, plump-faced men with their lavishly dressed up spouses. Honoring the event, many of them are wearing colorful national skirts and strings of beads. "Tourist Lodge" has been a rather unkempt hotel in the past, while being under state ownership, but now it is privatized and has experienced lots of significant improvements.
It may still seem rather plain for any westerner, yet it's perfectly fine for me. Running water, a shower and no smoke in the room is a luxury! In Arnuchal Pradesh, like in Nagaland, people have fireplaces in their houses, and living in a smoke-filled room is a daily reality. I am perfectly satisfied if only I don't have to endure smoke in my lodging. That's all I actually need! Due to occurring moments of political instability, security measures are rather strict and the safety of VIPs is carefully guarded. A tall wall and threatening barbed wires encircle the hotel.
Mokokchung has just few eateries, few shops, internet cafes and a market place, yet everything of the above mentioned opens the earliest at 10.00 and shuts at about 15.00 - 16.00 pm, the very latest at 17.00 pm. It somewhat resembles a curfew-like situation. As some disturbances have taken place there, the government prefers people not to walk around after dark for the sake of security. It's solved easily just by closing everything and leaving no reason whatsoever for going out. We manage to drop by the local market. The offer is approximately the same as in Arnuchal Pradesh - unfamiliar wild plants, fruit, fish and vegetables.
The biggest building in the town is a Christian church. Christianity has laid strong roots down there, up to the extent that the church has more power than any politician or the government. Moatsu festival usually continues for three days, one of them being Sunday, and the church seeks ways to prohibit any festivities on that day. Even on Saturday evening, we do not know yet if the festival is going to take place on the next day or not. People have been preparing their performances and costumes many months, but the church still does not allow the festival to take place on Sunday.
The advent of Christianity
An important landmark in the history of the Naga people with considerable social, cultural and political ramifications is the arrival of missionaries and the spread of Christianity among the Naga tribes. The acceptance of Christianity marks a departure from their many tribal customs and traditions, and along with the spread of English education, heralds the arrival of modernity in the Naga hills. The first missionary to arrive the Naga Hills is believed to be Rev. Miles Bronson in 1841. Likewise the missionaries served as an agent in forging a greater "Naga" identity which is a radical departure from the age old set up of warring village republics. The dreaded custom of head hunting slowly declined and disappeared as more and more Nagas embraced Christianity in the early 20th century. Today, more than 95% of Naga people claim to be Christians. Christianity has changed the Naga society entirely.
Speeches and performances
On Saturday morning, we all leave for the stadium, which is the main venue of the festival. All the key performances are planned to take place there, while the smaller scale events will be held in the surrounding villages, too. Regardless of the location, the program is the same - its major part is made up by lengthy speeches of the statesmen. A whole string of dignitaries follow one another, and only then come dances. If you are expecting an extensive cultural program, perhaps you'll be disappointed. The performances are vivid and professional, yet they cannot compete in their length with speeches.
The center of the stadium is assigned to dancers, and a morung-shape stage, made of wood, straw and palm leaves is set up at one side. It's furnished with pompous sofas, meant for the comfort of honorary guests and their ladies. Two smaller morung-type constructions are erected on both sides of the main one, intended for the TV and press. In the opposite side, a large number of plastic chairs are lined up for spectators and participants of the festival.
Curiously enough, the performers are facing not the main bulk of spectators, but the few ones, sinking into the posh sofas. I quickly grasp the situation and make my way to the area of the peress to get a better view of what's going on. Even though it is guarded, no one asks me a single question - after all, I am the only foreigner, moreover, armed with two cameras! So I can sit comfortably throughout the performance mingling among the journalists from across Nagaland regions and even enjoy refreshments.
After dance routines, youngsters engage in a peculiar race with wooden vehicles somewhat resembling a circus performance. Only Ao tribes participate at Moatsu festival, with just a few groups coming from Assam. If you wish to get a deeper insight into Nagaland culture, you should go to Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, in December when the Hornbill festival takes place. It is much more serious event and all the Nagaland tribes are represented there. This is my first time in Nagaland, however, and I am glad for everything I can see!
The dances are choreographically interesting. They are mostly fight-themed, and every dance starts with performers literally jumping out onto the field with fierce battle-cry upon their lips. They scream, jump and hold spears in their hands, while the solo-dancers imitate battle elements. Their routines involve high leaps holding a resemblance of fighting roosters. Performance of youngsters is more peaceful. It picture scenes of meeting someone for the first time and awakening of mutual affection. Folk dances are performed mostly in groups in synchronized fashion by both men and women, depending on the type of dance.
When the speeches are over, the dignitaries watch the performances for about 15 minutes and then they leave, perhaps to attend some more significant duties. They go to party somewhere else, in fact, and to consume a bit of local brew. For the most part, performers are facing empty seats, which seem rather disrespectful considering all the efforts invested in preparation. There are no more VIPs whom I could get in the way, and I assume a comfortable position near the stage for shooting and photo taking.
A bucket of sourish rice beer in a remote corner of the world
Hoping to see more of the festival events, we decide to visit two more villages. In one of them, we arrive too late as the festival has just finished there. The westerners are immediately noticed, however, and the organizers quickly approach us. They ask from where we are and in the honor of the guests from Latvia, the festival resumes! We have a chance to listen to a women's ensemble and watch a group of young men dancing. Undeniably, a very touching display of respect and hospitality!
When the performances are over, all the villagers gather around a long table to enjoy a festive meal. It consists of traditional foods, like rice, spicy sauce, boiled vegetables, wild plants and fried, fatty pork. Everybody eats from metal dishes with their fingers. Finally, plates are piled up and left for the village women to take care of. Young people from the dance group show a lively interest in us. Lots of questions are asked and photos taken. A visibly drunk guy tries to persuade us to taste rice beer from his bucket. An impressive, ten-liter pail is already half empty in his hands.
My travel companion doesn't dare to take a gulp, leaving no choice for me but to try it. It's not polite to snub someone's hospitality, so I take a metal cup with a pallid liquid somewhat resembling kefir or buttermilk. It turns out to be different from rice and millet beer, which I had tasted in Arnuchal Pradesh Ziro village. With a little sourish taste, this seems even a little better. Frankly speaking, I still prefer New Zealand's white wine! Familiarizing with far-away lands involves experimenting and discovering new tastes! Then, accompanied by some tipsy yet extremely friendly youngsters, we go to get a closer view of the village
A wonderful view over the valley and hillocks opens up at the other side of the village. The landscape will not remain like this for much longer as it's planned to construct a dam there. Wherever I travel, I come across the same again and again - some grand projects changing the environment and impacting human fates and their lifestyle are either constructed or envisaged in future. It seems that everything depens upon economy, money and business needs. Every journey makes me realize how changeable those remote areas are. If you wish to witness ancient cultures and traditions, hurry up and go to Arnuchal Pradesh and Nagaland, especially the most intact, eastern part of it.
„Naga Idol" and the fashion show
The next item on our agenda is a fashion show as soon as we have returned back to Mokokchung. A show of young designers and a concert of "Naga Idol" are also part of the festival. Nagaland people are beautiful and their mongoloid features differ very much from what we are used to see. It's a pleasure for me to watch their models! The presented garments feature a tasteful blend of western and local Naga style. "Naga Idol" singers and musicians are very professional and their voices are fantastic. Many Nagaland tribes talk in their different languages and for mutual communication they use either Nagamese or English. Nagaland is just the right place to relish a perfect interpretation of English. A fashion show is no exception and is preceded by tedious speeches of government officials. Yet this time, the stage is devoted to the show itself, while the VIP sofas are placed down in the stadium. The general public watches the performance over the heads of dignitaries and the TV filming equipment positioned in front of the stage.
Art and craft
On the next day, the festival doesn't take place and we decide to visit Tuesang village, 120 km from Mokokchung. Kevin warns that the road is very bad and that it will take at least 5 hours to get there. That's why people rarely travel there. Westerners never go to Tuesang at all, and people living along the roadsides have never met them in their lifetime. It turns out that the road is not that bad at all. I spot a house adorned with skulls of mituns and other animal and ask if we could pull down there. A common practice about all the tribes is that they decorate the entrances of their dwellings with heads of buffaloes.
The Naga people love color and this is evident in their colorfully designed shawls and headgear. Here again, the designs on the costumes are unique to each tribe. They use beads with variety, profusion and complexity in their jewelry along with a gamut of materials like glass, shell, stone, teeth or tusk, claws/horns, metal, bone, wood, seeds, hair, fiber, etc.
Weaving of colorful woolen and cotton shawls is a central activity for women of all Naga tribes. One of the common features of Naga shawls is that three pieces are woven separately and stitched together. Weaving is an intricate and time consuming work and each shawl takes at least a few days to complete. Designs for shawls and wraparounds (commonly called meghala) are different for men and women. Among many tribes the design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer.
Scary cookies and blond hair
People live in very primitive conditions there. I try to treat a little girl to a cooky, but she is frightened and throws it away. The child clearly doesn't understand what it is. But her granddad knows - he picks the cooky up and puts it in his pocket. Yet children are overjoyed about pens we have brought them. However far this place might be from the modern world, it doesn't mean that children do not attend schools and get education - stationary becomes very handy for them.
A little while later, we stop by another house. The grownups are very curious and try to communicate with us, while a child, scared by my blond hair, burst into tears. The mother manages to calm the girl down and soon the kid stares at me in wide-eyed interest and even poses for some photos. The house sits on the very verge of a steep slope, again giving an impression that people live like birds in their nests here.
Boiled ferns and dog treat
We drive into a small village and notice a signboard "Rice Hotel", which is not a hotel at all. In India it means a small eatery and that there is a chance to get some food! We don't get to eat very often during our trip, and it may happen that there is even 36 hours between meals. Therefore, we decide to stop by and drink at least a cup of coffee. What it actually means is that we ask to heat some water and drink our own "Nescafe" from metal cups and eat some plum cake, which we have brought with us.
Yet you can get some food too, for example, boiled ferns. While drinking and eating, we notice a dog and decide to give it a cookie. The dog too, has no idea that it is edible and timidly steps back. I throw a cookie to it and the dog darts away. Kevin explains that dogs are never treated too well there. It might have thought that it's a stone I am throwing. Dogs do not expect anything good of people. Another thing to be mentioned is that they are often used for meat, too. This place will stick in my memory as the one where they don't know cookies.
Scalps of women and the very worst names
As we arrive in Tuesang, we look for a friend of Kevin, who shows us around the village. It stretches down the mountain slope for some 3 km and is split into three areas belonging to three different clans. In ancient times, when Naga tribes fought among themselves, inter-tribe marriages were not allowed. Therefore, in order to avoid incest, tribes were divided into clans. Marriages were allowed only between two different clans, and to make the whole system easier, the villages were divided into separate zones, according to clan affiliation. Nowadays, the marriage issue is less complicated, yet Kevin tells that he would like to choose a wife from his own tribe.
Kids follow us all through the village; we give them some sweets and the bravest ones allow themselves to be photographed. Traditional style houses are still existent in Tuesang village. We visit a man who demonstrates a special machete belt. The machete is attached at the back while the belt itself is adorned with shells and woman's hair. In former days, men could go to another tribe, select a woman with beautiful hair and kill her to get a scalp to decorate their belts. It is cruel, of course! Beauty requires sacrifice so they say. I even tried such a belt on, just this time, decorated with animal bristle, not human hair.
Suddenly, a tropical rain shower starts. It is literally pouring, and we hurry to protect our cameras from soaking. We search for some plastic bags and quickly return at Kevin fiend's home. We are quite hungry by that time, and what a joy it is to see that Kevin is about to cook an omelet for us! Kevin deftly bustles around the kitchen and the omelet is almost ready. Fire is burning in the corner of the kitchen, some fire wood drying above it, and machetes and saws are neatly lined along the wall.
While drinking "Nescafe", we ruminate what names could be given to each of us. In ancient times, Nagaland people were giving nasty names to their children - the worst is the name, the best, for example, chicken poo, or something of the kind. People believed that babies with beautiful names can be snatched away by spirits. I question our host about the life in Tuesang, about relationships and family. The life flows peacefully there, and people live in harmony and are faithful to their spouses. It's a small place after all, and there is not so much choice where else to go.
The family was the basic unit of the Naga society. Marriages were usually monogamous and fidelity to the spouse was considered a high virtue. Marriage within the same clan is not permitted and it amounts to incest. Incestuous couples used to be ostracized from the villages. The family was the most important institution of social education and social control. There used to be a deep respect for parents and elders. Material inheritance, such as land and cattle, is passed on to the male offspring with the eldest son receiving the largest share.
Status of women - In the classless, caste-less Naga society, women have traditionally enjoyed a high social position, with a pivotal role in both family and community affairs. However, being a patriarchal society with strong warrior tradition, it is considered an honor to be born as a man. The traditional culture and customs expect a Naga woman to be obedient and humble; also expect her to perform the roles of wife, mother, child bearer, food producer and household manager. She also supplements the household income by weaving colorful shawls, an activity which is done exclusively by women. Women are highly respected and given a great deal of freedom, however, they are traditionally not included in the decision-making process of the clan or the village.
It is still raining outside. We take some photos of the inside of the house and household items. Indeed, people do not have lots of belongings there. The omelet is ready now, and Kevin serves it on a huge metal dish. As to shape, it resembles soviet time metal ice cream or dessert bowls, just this one is more like a cold weapon. I cannot remain indifferent towards warmth and kindness of these people. It touches me so deeply that I can even burst into tears, out of happiness, of course, and out of knowledge that I have to leave this wonderful corner of the earth. Human relationships are saturated by such a genuine sincerity there, which you cannot easily find elsewhere. Even total strangers treat each other as the closest friends! We say good bye to our host and, upon leaving, give a box of coloured pencils to the children and we are on the road again.
The rain has ceased, and a thick white fog veils the mountain slopes, making the road hardly visible. There is some mystical beauty about it, and I am overwhelmed by a sudden, surreal sense of happiness! On our way to Tuesang, we could not cross some bridge as its metal plaques had bent upwards. Kevin and my travel companion tried to press them down using their body weight, so that our jeep could cross over. Now, on our way back, we see that local people are already repairing it. We wait for a while and then with no difficulty get across. Fantastic scenery opens up behind the car window - rice fields and scraps of fog and cloud, like pieces of cotton wool, hanging on bright green treetops...
Nagaland climate is very diverse. Summers are damp with an abundant precipitation, while winters are rather chilly. Saramati mountaintops are always covered in snow. They say that the coldest spot is Pfutsero in Phek region, 2133 m above the sea level. Musoon season lasts from May to September. Naga people build their houses high up in the mountains also because thus it's easier to avoid malaria.
Driving long hours is a good chance for me to discuss with Kevin different facts that I have learned about Nagaland.
One of the most striking social characteristics of the Nagas was the practice of headhunting. Most villages had a skull house and each man in the village was expected to contribute to the collection. The taking of a head is symbolic of courage and men who could not were dubbed as women or cows. There is nothing more glorious for a Naga than victory in battle by bringing home the severed head of an enemy.
A short summary of the history and extent of this practice may help put Naga headhunting in perspective. Headhunting arises in some cultures from a belief in the existence of a more or less material soul matter on which all life depends. In the case of human beings, this soul matter is believed to be particularly located in the head and removal of the head is believed to capture the soul matter within and add it to the general stock of soul matter belonging to the community, wherein it contributes to the fertility of the human population, livestock and crops. Headhunting has thus been associated with ideas regarding the head as the seat of the soul, with some forms of cannibalism in which the body or part of the body in consumed in order to transfer to the eater the soul matter of the victim, together with phallic cults and fertility rites intended to imbue the soil with productivity.
Despite headhunting being prohibited, scattered reports of such practices continued well to 20th century and, in Indonesia, into the 21st. In Europe the practice survived until the early 20th century in the Balkan Peninsula, where the taking of the head implied the transfer of the soul matter of the decaptivated to the decaptivator. Headhunting has been practiced worldwide: British Isles, Nigeria, Indonesia, Oceania, Micronesia, Melanesia, Aboriginal Australians, New Zealand, South America, Taiwan, Philippines and Borneo. Mythologically, headhunting is explained by the Naga as the mimicry of nature. At first there was supposedly no such practice when people fought against each other in disputes over land, forest and rivers. The people who stayed at home waited anxiously and soon demanded proof of the warriors' victory.
This made the Naga bring kneecaps of each slain victim. The custom was altered to bringing the upper portions (head, shoulders and one arm) of victim, but this was inconvenient because of weight. Like most peoples of the world the Naga believe that man's soul lives in his head. They even have simple „proof" of it, ascribing the vibration of the membranes between an infant's fontanelles after birth to the soul (tenela) inside. The Naga assume that there are 2 or 3 souls inside the head. The second of these souls remains as a fertile potency inside the head and may be used as a fertilizer for the needs of others. Obviously, this fertilizing soul-substance can be acquired by cutting off the head. The contrast between the general peacefulness and friendliness of the Naga and their headhunting propensities is odd.
Despite differences between group methods and views on the practice, headhunting for the Naga was the path par excellence to becoming entitled to wear certain status ornaments and to getting married. The act killing excited envy and admiration among others youths and increased a man's reputation among the elders. As may be seen from their techniques of war, a „collective aggressiveness" seems to be present among the Naga, yet no through investigation has ever been carried out. Furthermore, vendettas between peers were also a common motive for headhunting among the Naga. As among many others Northeast Indian societies, a clan and a family is the core of individual identity and, in a hostile surrounding, offending against clan-consciousness could incite intense hostility. The real basis of headhunting among all Naga groups is the belief that the head is the seat par excellence of the life-essence which informs human beings as well as many other animals.
This life essence is brought back to the village in the head and put in a sacred place from which apparently the life-essence diffuses to the villagers, their crops and their stock. This explains the necessity for taking heads to replenish life in the village when the population has been weakened by disease or scarcity. It also explains to great importance attached to head-taking as a young man's preparation for marriage. If he has not „touched meat", as the expression is, he is not nearly as likely to beget a child, for there is no surplus life around him. Similarly, it explains why woman's head with long hair is much prized as life-essence lodges in the hair of the head. Headhunting did not mean wanton killing. Most important was that the victim did not belong to the same clan or family.
Among certain groups the highest value was placed on a child's head, male or female, because to obtain it the warrior had practically to enter the enemy's village. Weak and insane people were taboo. In the days of headhunting, much effort was put into the design and manufacture of armors, such as helmets and shields and weapons like spears, daos, panjies and arrows and crossbows. The commonest method of attack was stealth - a raiding party might lie in ambush to waylay unguarded women going to the fields or unaccompanied travelers. Once the village leadership - chief, shamans, and elders - had agreed that a headhunting was necessary (e.g. secure fertility of crops, to build up or renew a village, or to inaugurate a magical instrument such as a new log drum), a complex ritual began. Many rituals and customs were observed after a successful headhunting raid. First warriors removed the brains from the heads and washed themselves in a river outside the village.
The heads were first taken to the log drum or were hung on the village head tree, until their flesh had decayed. Offerings were then made to the head. At the end - the entire village danced around the heads to the beat of the log drums; ritual songs were sung and a feast held in honor of the warriors. Once the flesh had decayed the skulls were hung or placed in rows in the morung or over the log drum. If an enemy skull was hung in one of their private houses, the Ao always hung a dog's skull above it in the belief that, were the dead man's relatives to call to him in a dream and ask who killed him, the dog's barking would drown their voices and prevent the dead man's soul from being heard.
It is known that headhunting has still been practiced in the 60s and the 70s of the last century. There are some precedents showing that it happens still nowadays, yet no official investigations have been carried out and the government simply prefers not to notice that.
This is the end of the third chapter of Different India travel notes. It was a journey that allowed us to look into eye of still a primeval civilization. Only very few anthropological explorations have tried to take a closer look at it, yet it was a journey filled with such a sincerity and warmhearteness that it touched us to the very deapth of our hearts.
Dance performances in Mokokchung festival:
Dances in vilage:
Assam dance performance in Mokokchung:
Keywords: India, Nagaland, Nagas, tribes
This is indeed beautifully place one of our Naga tribe here. Grateful to you for your appreciable work. God bless you. I always long for something like this to expose our oppress tribe to people and Voice out for Justice.our right and history are denied under Ati-people. our people suffer and die needlessly. people don't have road,hospital,schools, water supply, electricity.No basic life support in this twenty first century.
I am sorry to place in the wrong place but wonder how to look peoples help to fight for Justice.