NAGALAND AND TRAVELING IN THE VILLAGES OF THE HEADHUNTERS

NAGALAND

Nagaland is an Indian state in far northeastern India. Bordered by Arunachal Pradesh to north, Manipur to the south Assam to the west and Myanmar to the east, it is populated by mainly Naga people and is regarded as their homeland. Lying southeast of the Brahmaputra Valley and embracing the Naga Hills, it is densely forested and has steep slopes and ridges, swift-flowing streams, a bracing climate, beautiful terraced fields on the mountain slopes, hill-top villages and bad roads. One thing that sets it apart from other states in India is that its predominately (88 percent Christian. State Tourism Website: www.nagalandtourism.com .

Nagaland covers 16,579 square kilometers (6,401 square miles), is home to about 2 million people and has a population density of 119 people per square kilometer. About 71 percent of the population live in rural areas. Kohima is the capital with about 100,000 people. Dimapur is the largest city, with about 250,000 people. Languages of Nagaland (with the main ones tied Naga tribes with the same names) in 2011: Konyak (12.33 percent); Lotha (8.96 percent); Angami (7.67 percent); Ao (10.05 percent); Sumi (8.53 percent); Chokri (4.6 percent); Sangtam (3.83 percent); Bengali (3.77 percent); Yimchungrü (3.74 percent); Chang (3.31 percent); Hindi (3.13 percent); Khiamniungan (3.11 percent); Rengma (3.05 percent); Phom (2.71 percent); Other (20.76 percent), Religion in Nagaland (2011): Christianity (88.1 percent); Hinduism (8.74 percent); Islam (2.44 percent); Buddhism (0.34 percent); Jainism (0.13 percent); Sikhism (0.1 percent); Naga folk religion (0.14 percent); not religious (0.1%) Tourism in Nagaland is in the growing stage and limited mainly because so many places are hard to get because of bad roads. But adventurous types willing to put up with a few bumps and grinds, Nagaland is fun place to go trekking, rock climbing and jungle camping and explore Naga culture and its riotous festivals. There are also lush and verdant sub-tropical rain forests, hills, mountains, plains and plateaus. The security situation has improved substantially in Nagaland and permits are no longer required to visit it.

The Nagas are best viewed as group of tribes rather than single tribe. Each community celebrates its own myriad festivals in accordance with agrarian calendar. The Nagaland Hornbill Festival is Nagland’s biggest event and vibrant celebration with a lot of color, costumes had heavy metal. It lasts for 10 days and is held in early December. It draws all the tribes and sub-tribes of Nagaland to the foothills below the lofty spurs of towering Mt. Japfu at Naga Heritage Village in Kisama, where event is held.

Northeastern India

Northeastern India looks like a wing that was connected to India as a kind of afterthought. It is linked to India proper by a narrow strip of land between Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Bangladesh. Northeastern India is made up of the seven states of 1) Assam, 2) Meghalaya, 3) Tripura, 4) Arunachal Pradesh, 5) Mizoram, 6) Manipur, and 7) Nagaland. Assam is a large tea-growing state. Arunchal Pradesh, the northeastern-most state of India, is also claimed by China and requires a permit to visit. Meghlaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura are small ethnic states set up for the main ethnic groups that live in each one. They were set up largely to protect indigenous minorities living in them who are mainly Christians. Some of the states were off limits to foreigners in part to protect the culture and way of life of the tribal groups that live there. Some have experienced separatists violence,

Northeast India is one of the country's most scenic region. The snowcapped Himalayas provide a magnificent backdrop in the northern part of the region for pine forest, flower-covered meadows and lush tea plants that thrive in the regions misty weather. A multitude of ethnic groups occupy the southern and eastern regions, where there are dense rain forest with rare plants and animals. The main attractions are hill stations, national parks, Himalayan peaks and ethnic minorities. Some areas receive quite a bit of rain, especially in the monsoon season. In the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland, upward of 90 percent of the population is tribal. However, in the remaining northeast states of Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, and Tripura, tribal peoples form between 20 and 30 percent of the population.

Certain tensions exist between these states and a relatively distant central government and between the tribal peoples, who are natives of these states, and migrant peoples from other parts of India. These tensions have led the natives of these states to seek a greater participation in their own governance, control of their states' economies, and their role in society. Emerging from these desires for greater self-governance are new regional political parties and continued insurgent movements. In addition to the more frequently analyzed regional movements in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, and states such as Assam and Nagaland in the northeast, there are other regional movements, such as those in the Tripura and Miso tribal areas. [Source: Library of Congress]

There are more than 30 different separatist insurgent groups in Assam and northeast India. They include the United Liberation Front of Assam, the Manipur People’s Army, the National Liberation Front of Tripura and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland Some of them have been fighting since independence in 1947 and have a history of fighting that goes back before that.

For a long time many areas of Assam and Northeast India were off limits to tourists, and some areas still are, because of the insurgent groups and tensions with China and to a lesser degree Bangladesh. There is periodic fighting between Assamese and Bengalis, and the Indian army and the Nagas, a tribal group that has never been completely tamed. You need a special permit to some areas. In recent years an effort has been made to open up the area. Restrictions on traveling are slowly being lifted. In 1995, the restricted area permits were lifted for Meghalaya, Assam and Tripura. In 2010, they were lifted in Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. Arunachal Pradesh still requires a permit.

Travel in Nagaland

Traveling in Nagaland takes time and generally can not be done with public transportation. The roads are very bad. It can take four or five hours to travel 100 kilometers. There are few buses and little shared-taxi-type transport. The only real feasible way to get around if you have limited time is in a hired SUV and a driver, which will cost you about US$50 to US$100 a day. I did a nine-day trip in Assam, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh with a driver who couldn’t speak much English, and no guide, for about US$75 a day. We stayed in cheap local hotels or jungle lodges, ate at roadside restaurants and tea houses, chewed a lot of betel nut and spent eight to 10 hours driving on scary precipitous roads several of the days through extraordinarily beautiful mountains, covered with rain forests, with snow-capped Himalayan peaks in the distance.

As of 2010, you need no longer need a travel permit to enter Nagaland and travel around most places there. Nagaland is regarded as one of the best places in India to experience adventuresome trekking and meet interesting tribes. I worked with Oken at Abor Country and Rintu at Times Travel. I gave them an outline of where I wanted to travel before I arrived and worked out the details of how that would accomplished at a cheap restaurant after I flew into Guwahati airport. There were a few issues over driver’s expenses but it all worked out in the end.

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Nagas

The term Naga is used describe groups of tribesmen of Indian and Chinese descent that live in the hill country along the border of far eastern India and northwestern Burma. Nagas are former head hunters. In World War II, they were recruited by the British to fight the Japanese.

The name Naga was first given to these people by the Ahom people in Assam and other neighboring people. The origin of the word Naga is not known. Some say is derived from the Assamese and Sanskrit wordsfor “naked” ( naga or nanga) or the Hindustani word for mountain ( nag). Many Naga members don’t like the word Naga; they prefer the names of their tribe or group. The term has only been used widely since Indian independence as a way to distinguish them from other Indians and was a name adopted by the Naga independence movement.

Naga descend from Tibet-Myanmar ethnic races. Most live in India in Nagaland of northwest India in the states of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Nagas are also found in Assam. India. There are about 3.5 million Nagas, with maybe 2 million of them in Nagaland in India. They have traditionally grown crops and hunted and lived mostly in the mountains and places nobody else wanted to live and maintained a high degree of isolation for other groups. About three fourths of the population of Nagaland are Nagas.

In Myanmar there is a much smaller population of some 100,000 Nagas. In Myanmar they live mostly in the northern part of the country ar near the India-Myanmar border in the valley regions of Patkwai. They are spread around western Sagaing Division: from Patkoi range in north to Thaungdyat in south and from Indian border in west to River Chindwin in east. Some can also be found in Khantee, Lashee, Lahel and Nanyun of Sagain Township. The Chin and the Naga compose about 3 percent of the population of Myanmar. They usually make their villages above 3000 or 4000 feet above sea level. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

By some counts there are 66 tribes. The 15 major ones include the: Konyak Nagas (with 170,000 members), Ao Nagas (with 150,000 members), Zeme (Sema) Nagas (50,000), Phom Nagas (40,000), Chang Nagas (35,000), Rongmei Nagas (30,000), and Maring Nagas (20,000). Among the Naga groups that have been studied are the Kacha, the Angami, the Rengma, the Lhote, the Seama, the Aos, the Knyak, the Chang, the Sangtam, the Yachumu, the Tukomu, the Naked Rengma, the Tangkhul, and the Kalyo-kengu (“the salted-house men”). Much more is known about the Indian Nagas than their Myanmar counterparts.

Early Naga History

The origin of the Nagas is not known. For that matter little is known of any group believed to be from China that migrated south of the Himalayas. The first record of China people in India is from around the 10th century B.C. Based on linguistic evidence, it is believed that the Nagas and other Indians of Chinese descent originated in a region between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in northwestern China and arrived in India in several waves of migrations that took place over several centuries after Aryans arrived. Their original settlements were around the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers in Burma.

There were contacts between Aryan tribes and tribes of Chinese descent. The Chinese tribes were not homogeneous. There spoke a number of languages and had a number of different customs and social structures. As time went on they migrated out from their early settlements in Burma into Assam, the Cachar Hills and what is now Nagaland.

From 1228 to the British annexation of the region, when Assam was ruled by the Ahoms, the Nagas were pretty much on their own but they did have contacts with the Ahoms and these contacts took many different forms. Nagas that lived on the plains near the Ahom paid an annual tribute to the Ahom which gave them free access to land and fisheries in return for refraining from staging raids in Ahom territory. The Ahom occasionally staged raids into Naga territory but were never able to bring the region under their control. The Naga were also involved in trade. They traded salt (an important commodity often used as money), cotton, medicinal herbs, ivory, bee’s wax and adzes for Assamese rice, cloth and beads.

Naga Under the British

The British were never able to conquered the Nagas and only occupied a small piece of their territory. In 1820, the British added Assam to the East India Company’s territories. In 1832, they attempted to annex the Naga areas but met fierce resistance from Naga guerilla groups, particularly from the Angami tribe.

The British sent ten military expeditions into Naga-controlled lands between 1835 and 1851. The resistance continued. The British set up posts in Angami land, which in turn unified the Agami. In 1879 the Angami staged a number of raids on British positions. The British responded by burning Angami villages and were ultimately able to bring the Angami region under their control. Using this territory as their beachhead the British were able to expand their control over much of Nagaland.

British rule was regarded as benign. No Indians were allowed to serve as administrators in their territory and measures were taken to keep the Nagas from being exploited by people from the plains. The British also worked to end intratribal conflict. After annexation, Christian missionaries quickly moved into the region, with American Baptists taking the lead. The missionaries found a receptive audience and the conversion process went relatively quickly.

Later Naga History

The Nagas have never considered themselves part of India. On August 14, 1947, one day before India and Pakistan gained independence, Naga leaders in the Naga National Council (NNC) declared their independence over a chunk of land in far northeast India that became known as Nagaland. Even so India asserted authority over the small state. The Nagas never agreed to join India, and they have been fighting for independence ever since, with both China and Pakistan reportedly at various times supplying the Nagas with arms.

India assimilated Nagaland in 1952, The Nagas responded by boycotting India-imposed elections. Civil disobedience tactics were used in 1953 but achieved little . An armed struggle began in 1955. Some 4,000 Indian troops were called into the area to put down the uprising, in some cases fighting Naga tribesmen armed with slings, and bows and arrows.

In 1956. the NNC declared the creation of the Federal Government of Nagaland. The Naga Peoples Convention demanded statehood. To quiet the Naga independence movement, India made Nagaland a self-governing state in 1963, but restricted access by foreigners.

Violence continued. A peace commission sponsored by the Baptist church was formed and a cease between the government of India and Nagaland federal government was declared in May 1964. The cease-fire lasted until September 1972 after an assassination attempt was made on the India-installed chief minister of Nagaland and the Indian government declared an end to the cease-fire and banned the NNC. Violence continued until the Shillong Accord was signed by the Indian government and the Nagaland federal government in November 1975.

Beginning in 1975, Nagaland was ruled under "presidential rule" by the Indian government. Pockets of resistance continued but were small and isolated. There were reports of separatists being trained in China and Pakistan. A small resistance movement existed in exile in Burma in the 1980s. Violence still and calls for more autonomy appear from time to time.

Naga Language and Religion

Nagas speak languages and dialects that are part of Tibeto-Burman family, which are part of the Sino-Tibetan phylum. But aside from that there is great diversity among the languages spoken by the Nagas. There are nearly as many languages and dialects as there are tribes and groups. Thus far about 30 languages have formally been recognized. The lingua franca of the state of Nagaland is Naga Pidgin (also known as Nagamese, Kachari Bengali or Bodo).

The Naga languages belong to the Kuki-Chin Subgroup of the Kuki-Naga Group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. They are all tonal and monosyllabic and had no written form until missionaries gave them Roman alphabets in the 1800s. Many Nagas speak English due to their Christian schooling and from watching foreign programs on satellite television.

Most Naga are Christians. About 95 percent of Nagaland's 1.21 million people are Christian, most of whom are Baptists, thanks to the work of Baptist missionaries that have been in Nagaland since the late 19th century. When Billy Graham spoke in Nagaland in 1973 he drew crowds of more than 100,000. Graham was one of the few foreign visitors that the Indian government allowed to visit Nagaland.

Naga Society, Warfare and Headhunting

The Naga are very attached to their land, family, clan and khel (village quarter). The khel is responsible for cultivating a particular parcel of land A village is made up of several khels. Khels are often defined by geography but are generally made up of members of the same clan group or some other grouping.

Naga society revolves around patrilineal clans ( thino) and kindred ( putsa). Clan loyalty is generally more important than loyalties to other groups, even khels. Personal identity is closely linked with clan membership. Clans are rather fluid and can break apart and form anew. Descent is patrilineal. Status was traditionally been measured in war trophies, particularly heads, but now is measured mostly by wealth and sponsorship of festivals. Social status is reflected in the roofing of homes.

Conflict between tribes, clans and villages was common in the old days and headhunting was a feature of warfare. The traditional weapons of warfare were spears and shields. Spears used to be trimmed with human hair. Guns was used to a limited degree after the arrival of the British.

Headhunting and warfare was common into the early 20th century. The practice was largely ended through efforts by the British, missionaries and the Indian government. The last reports of headhunting in Indian Nagaland were in the 1960s.

The have been no reports of headhunting in Burma since 1991. That year in village near the Indian border an intervillage disagreement lead to an attack in which men from one of the villages “hacked 28 heads from the enemy villages” and then brought them home as souvenirs.” [Source: Donovan Webster, National Geographic, November 2003]

Naga Villages

Naga settlements have traditionally been established at elevations between 900 and 1200 meters on hilltops that could be defended from neighboring tribes. The villages were designed to be secure and self sufficient. In the old days when intertribal conflict was common in places that were heavily fortified. Fortified settlements traditionally had one or more heavily guarded entrances and was sometime protected by booby traps such as pitfalls and ditched fields with panjis (pointed bamboo sticks).

The fortifications included large wooden doors (latched from the inside of the villages and made from a single piece of wood), stone walls up to three meters thick, wooden fences coverd with panjis. Footpath approaching the villages were lined and covered with thorn bushes so that people approaching had to walk in single fille. During times of war, roads and paths leading to the village were covered with pegs driven into the ground and rough stones were placed near the village gate. Since intertribal warfare has ended, the villages are no longer fortified.

Traditionally, Naga villages have been surrounded by terraced fields and slash-and- burn plots cleared from the jungle. Each house has an open space in front and is connected to other houses by paths. Small gardens near the houses are used to raise maize, mustard and other crops. Villages are usually named after a geographical feature associated with the village or a historical event or ancient settlement associated with the site.

Most Naga villages also contain a morung (a clubhouse and dormitory for single men). Among the Angami, it serves as a guardhouse, clubhouse and center for communal activities and some ceremonies. Most Angami villages have an open space that serves as a meeting place for the entire village. Sometimes there are pliths here made of stone masonry or wood. Stations, often situated on village walls, or a high point in the village, can be as high as nine meters and may have originally been used as guard towers.

Dimapur

Dimapur is the largest city in Nagaland, with about 250,000 people. It serves as the gateway to Nagaland and is the state’s only railhead and has its only airport. An important trade and commerce center, it the was the capital of the powerful Kachari tribe and seat of the the Kachari rulers. Treasures from that era are preserved in the Archeological Museum

Flanked by the Dhansiri River on one side and forested meadows on the other, Dimapur is home with medieval ruins of monoliths, temples, baths and embankments, all of which trace the town's historical roots to the 13th century.. Dimapur acts as the gateway to parts of Manipur as well as Nagaland and has elements of tribal culture from both states. While parts of the city are bustling commercial centers, others are endowed with lush meadows, resembling the setting of a hill station. Around the city are dense forests, waterfalls and rugged mountains. Among the places of historical interest in and around the city are the Kachari Rajbari Fort ruins, and remnants of tanks like Rajpukhuri, Padampukhuri, Bamunpukhuri and Jorpukhuri

Getting There: By Air: The only airport in Nagaland is at Dimapur, which is well-connected to the cities of Guwahati and Kolkata. For international flights, one should head to airstrips at Kolkata or Guwahati. By Road: National Highway (NH) 39 runs through Dimapur and connects it to Kohima and Imphal with good roads. By Train: Dimapur Railway station is only connected to the cities of Kolkata and Guwahati and one needs to get to the railheads here to take a train for Dimapur.

Near Dimapur

Ntanki National Park (60 kilometers south of Dimapur)contains thick semi-tropical rainforests and is home to a number of species of birds, mammals and reptiles, including Hoolock gibbons, elephants, sloth bears, tigers, leopards, barking deer, wild dogs, and flying squirrels. The park is also teeming with flora and varieties are mahogany, bamboo, rattan and palms. In addition, mountains, cliffs and valleys in the park offer opportunities for trekking, hiking and camping. Declared as a national park in 1993 and an elephant reserve in 2005, the park is spread over an area of about 200 square kilometers. November to February is the best time to visit.

Peren (60 kilometers south of Dimapur, 100 kilometers southwest of Kohima) is home to Zeliang and Kuki tribes and famous for tribal festivals like Meleinyi and Minkut that are celebrated in spring. Located in an area of dense vegetation, gushing rivers, cane and bamboo trees, wild orchids, eucalyptus and pine, the town itself is known for it lively culture of folk dance, music and arts. Locals celebrate Christmas with a unique tradition of placing gifts outside the town for visitors. Other festivities include the harvest festival of Mimkuut and Chaga-Ngee that is celebrated in honour of the brave tribal warriors. Peren is often touted as the place where the written modern history of Nagaland began, as Britons made it a center for communication to reach out to the tribes of Nagaland. Attractions include Mt Paona, Mt Kisa, Ntanki National Park and the caves at Puilwa village.

Liphanyan Governor S Camp (43 kilometers from Dimapur) rests in the foothills of the mountainous Wokha district. The Doyang river flows nearby and the picturesque view of the stream meandering through towering mountains blanketed with lush timber forests is a delightful sight. Locals and visitors enjoy rafting, camping and fishing here. The best time to visit is between October and February when the weather is cooler and rainfall is minimal. Other attractions nearby include Totsu Wozhu Lake and Mount Tiyi.

Kohima

Kohima (70 kilometers east of Dimapur) is the capital of Nagaland with about 100,000 people. Situated at an elevation of nearly a mile, it is more like big village than a city. Barra Basti, the ceremonial center of the city, is surrounded by traditional Nagastyle houses, a huge basket granary and a trough for brewing rice beer. Worth checking out are the War Cemetery, with graves of soldiers who died in World War II, the State Museum and the Zoological Park.

Kohima is the home of the Angami Naga tribe and derives its name from 'Kewhira' or 'Kewhima', meaning the land where the Kewhi flower grows. The city serpentines along the top of mountain ridges with the Japfu mountain range in the background. The best time to visit is is during the internationally renowned Hornbill Festival held in December, which attracts thousands of people. Traditional Angami Naga culture and hospitality can be experienced in the town’s heritage villages and homestay experiences.

Getting There: By Air: Dimapur,70 kilometers away, is the nearest airport. It has daily flights to Guwahati and Kolkata. By Road: The city is well-connected with good roads to all major Indian cities. By Train: Dimapur is the nearest railway station, 74 kilometers away. It is well-connected with all major cities in India.

War Cemetery was built in April, 1944, to honour the brave soldiers of the 2nd British Division of the Allied Forces, who lost their lives during the Second World War. “When you go home, tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today,” reads an epitaph written by English classicist, John Maxwell Edmonds. Set amidst gardens and picturesque surroundings, the war cemetery houses 1,420 graves and is well-maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery was built in the tennis court of the then deputy commissioner's residence.This is the exact place where one of the fiercest battles against the Japanese was fought in India. The battle of Kohima was fought from April 4 to June 22 in 1944. The cemetery is situated on Garrison Hill and offers a gorgeous panoramic view of Kohima. The cemetery's top also houses a dome-like memorial which was raised to honour the 917 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who lost their lives in the battle and were cremated according to their faith.

Battle of Kohima

Battle of Kohima — fought from April 4 to June 22 in 1944 — was one of the fiercest battles against the Japanese fought in India and was the turning point of the Japanese U-Go offensive into India in 1944 during World War II. The battle was fought in three stages around the town of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland in northeast India. From 3 to 16 April, the Japanese attempted to capture Kohima ridge, a feature which dominated the road by which the besieged British and Indian troops of IV Corps at Imphal were supplied. By mid-April, the small British and Indian force at Kohima was relieved. [Source: Wikipedia]

From 18 April to 13 May, British and Indian reinforcements counter-attacked to drive the Japanese from the positions they had captured. The Japanese abandoned the ridge at this point but continued to block the Kohima–Imphal road. From 16 May to 22 June, the British and Indian troops pursued the retreating Japanese and reopened the road. The battle ended on 22 June when British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 109, ending the Siege of Imphal.

The battle is often referred to as the "Stalingrad of the East". In 2013, the British National Army Museum voted the Battle of Imphal and Kohima to be "Britain's Greatest Battle". During the Battle of Kohima, the British and Indian forces suffered 4,064 casualties (men dead, missing and wounded). The Japanese suffered 5,764 battle casualties in the Kohima area and many of the 31st Division that participated in the battle subsequently died of disease or starvation, or took their own lives

Near Kohima

Destinations outside of Kohima include Khonoma (20 kilometers away), a village with an ancient bastion and homestays and cultural experiences for visitors; and Mount Tiyi, a spectacular trekking area. Ntaki Wildlife sanctuary (110 kilometers) is home of the hoolok baboon (the only gibbon found in India), elephants, mithun, sambar, barking deer, goral, flying squirrel, wild dog, tiger, sloth bear, hornbills and black stork. See Above. There are many places to engage in mountain climbing, jungle camping and trekking..

Japfu Peak (16 kilometers from Kohima) is 3,048 meters (9,200 feet) high and is the second highest mountains in Nagaland. One of the most difficult treks in Nagaland is the climb to the Japfu Peak. To reach the peak, tourists first need to reach the village of Kigwema and start the hike from a point near the Japfu Christian College. The trail is a demanding one and requires you to walk through dense shrubs. It takes around 5 hours to reach the peak and around 4 hours to get back to Kigwema. The Japfu peak is also famous for being home to the tallest rhododendron tree in the world. Standing 109 feet high, approximately as tall as a 9-storey building and has been recognized by Guinness Book of Records. The peak also offers splendid panoramic views of Kohima and its neighbouring areas.

Dzukou Valley (30 kilometers from Kohima, just behind Japfu Peak) is , famous for its wild flowers and pink rhododendrons. The valley is popular with trekkers for its interesting and challenging trekking circuits and is one of the most-visited tourist sites in Northeast India. Perched at a height of 2,450 meters, the valley is best visited whenit beautiful lilies, aconitums, euphorbias and other flowers are in full bloom. To reach the valley, travelers need to hike four kilometers on a steep trail. From Dzukou, travelers can also take a 17 kilometers trek to Viswema Village or a 15 kilometers trek to Zakhama. There are some handicraft shops on the raod from Kohima.

Dzuleke (40 kilometers from Kohima) is hill village mainly inhabited by 200 families of the Angami Naga tribe of Nagaland and is an excellent setting for experiencing nature and village life. As you enter the Dzuleke valley, you will come across a few cottages where you can choose to stay. Attractions include dishes made with bison, rainbow trout, crabs and Bhoot Jalokia, one of the hottest chillies in the world that are found here in abundance.

Wokha (70 kilometers from Kohima) is the home of the Lotha Nagas.. Perched on Wokha mountain, the town is surrounded by popular natural landmarks like Mount Tiyi, Doyang river and Totsu cliff. As well rivers, lakes and forests The town dates back to 1876 when the British came here and made it the headquarters of the Naga Hills District under Assam. You can also experience local dance and music here. The main festivals are Tokhu, Pikhuchak and Emong. It’s also famous for shawls, handmade using techniques that have been passed through generations, and has a number of hills with interesting trekking routes.

Tuophema Village (40 kilometers from Kohima) is a beautiful, tiny village introduces travelers to the rich culture and tradition of Nagaland. The pathways of this quaint village are dotted with a variety of wild flowers and cherry blossoms. Tourists can enjoy a comfortable stay in attractive huts, experience the incredible hospitality of the villagers, enjoy a cup of tea amidst breathtaking views and sample local cuisines while hanging out with warm-hearted locals. There is village museum with beautifully-made craft items.

Tseminyu (50 kilometers from Kohima) is a small town was once on a migration route of Naga tribes heading the north, looking for places to settle and cultivate. Today, it is home to the Rengmas, a tribe predominantly found in Nagaland and Assam. The town boasts a rich past that is evident in it abandoned villages with graveyards, gravestones and shattered pottery. Most of the village people speak English.

Mon

Mon (12 hours by road from Guwahati in Assam) is the main tribal center for the Konyak Naga, the largest Naga tribe. The Konyaks are known for their tattooed faces, blackened teeth and head hunting, which they practiced until 1960s. Now they are mostly Christians. They like chewing betel nut and using opium as a medicine for a wide range of maladies and consider leathery cow skin burned on an open fire to be a treasured delicacy.

Mon (pronounced “mɒn”) is situated scattered around the slopes of a 900-meter (2,950 -foot) -high at a distance of 357 kilometers from Kohima via Dimapur, 280 kilometers from Dimapur, 275 km from Kohima via Mokokchung, Tamlu and Wakching. It takes a while to get there because the roads are very bad. The town was established at the land of Chi and Mon villages because it was centrally located for the coronation of Anghs (chiefs). The town is most alive at the markets where people from neighboring villages come to sell their agricultural produce. Village head, Angh, have considerable influence. The area is known is known as "Land of Anghs" (Which means land ruled by kings). Angh houses are decorated with animal — and sometimes human — skulls, a reflection of the chief’s tribal power and glory.

About 16,500 people live in Mon. Almost all of them are members of the Konyak and Ao Naga tribes. I visited Mon for a couple days just before Christmas in 2015. The town consists of houses and buildings scattered along winding roads that go up and down a large hill that provides wonderful views of misty valleys in the morning. A few places were lit up with modest Christmas lights. We arrived at night after a long drive of eight hours or so on bad roads from Kaziranga National Park. In the communal kitchen area of my guest house there was a huge recently-slaughtered cow on the floor and meat boiling in cooking pots. The owners said help yourself. I walked around the town a little. Not much there. Ate all my meals at the guest house, took a day trip to Longwa and other villages with tattooed men and partied at night at the guest house with a fun group. We drove out on Christmas day. On the road near one small village was a small parade of people sweetly-singing Christmas songs.

Veda (70 kilometers east of the town of Mon) is the highest peak in Mon district. From the top of there are views of the great Brahmaputra River in India and the Chindwin River in Myanmar. There is also a waterfall nearby. Historically, Veda peak was where the British soldiers first set up their camp and also planted the first opium plant in the land of the Konyak Nagas

Shangnyu is a prominent Mon village. Ruled by the chief Angh, it is the home of a massive wood carving originally placed at the entrance of the Angh’s house that is believed to have been constructed by two brothers with the help of a spirit in ancient times. This carving is now preserved in a museum facing the Angh’s house. Some stone monoliths can also seen in front of the Angh’s ‘palace’.

Konyak Naga

The Konyaks are one of the major Naga tribes. Elderly members and ones that adhere to old customs are easily distinguishable from other Naga tribes by their pierced ears; and tattoos which they have can have on their faces, hands, chests, arms, and calves or everywhere. Facial tattoos were traditionally earned for taking an enemy's head. Other unique traditional practices that set the tribe apart from the rest are: gunsmithing, iron-smelting, brass-works, and gunpowder-making. They are also adept in making 'Janglaü' (machetes) and wood sculptures. [Source: Wikipedia]

In Nagaland, they inhabit the Mon District-- also known as 'The Land of The Anghs'. The Anghs/Wangs are their traditional chiefs whom they hold in high esteem. Konyaks are found in Tirap, Longding, and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh; Sibsagar District of Assam; and also in Myanmmar. They are known in Arunachal Pradesh as the Wanchos-- 'Wancho' is a synonymous term for 'Konyak'. Ethnically, culturally, and linguistically the Noctes and Tangsa of the same neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh, are also closely related to the Konyaks.

Radhika Iyengar wrote in Livemint: “The Konyaks, an isolated ethnic group defined culturally by their headhunting practice and elaborate facial tattoos, reside in the forest interiors of Nagaland. When they used to attack the villages of rival tribes, it was tradition to rip off their victims’ heads. Those who returned home with the heads would be revered as warriors. It was believed that human heads exuded a mystical force that would bring prosperity and benefit local crops.” [Source: Radhika Iyengar, Livemint, January 10, 2018]

Phejin Konyak , author the book “Konyaks—The Last Of The Tattooed Headhunters” and granddaughter of a celebrated headhunter, told Livemint: “Coming in contact with the outside world and their subsequent exposure brought about changes in Konyak society.” By the late 1800s, missionaries had already begun establishing schools and spreading Christianity across the land. The British banned headhunting in 1935—a move that proved fatal to the customary inking ritual.“It was the advent of Christianity which had a big influence on the old tradition—it was regarded as heathen. Today, almost 98% of the Konyak community has converted to Christianity."

Sugato Mukherjee wrote in The Diplomat: “Born into and inheriting a strong tribal identity, the present day Konyaks are as proud of their warrior tradition as previous generations were. The skills with a daw, or the long-handled headhunting knife, have been handed down through the generations. All the male members of the tribe possess homemade guns, fabricated in these remote villages. Thankfully, they no longer resolve their conflicts with these weapons; however, the Konyak festivals are often a throwback to their headhunting days, where war dances with guns and knives feature prominently and some of the enemy skulls buried deep in the forests are unearthed to be displayed – a reminder of a not-so-distant past.[Source: Sugato Mukherjee, The Diplomat, April 4, 2018}

Konyak tribal members maintain a very disciplined community life with strict adherence to duties and responsibilities assigned to each of them. A lot of time and energy is spent doing household and farming chores. You can often see Konyak women grinding rice in front of their homes with walls elaborately decorated with buffalo horns (in the old days they would have been decorated with enemy heads). Sharing opium in a gathering around the fire is a favorite pastime of the old warriors. A session often lasts for three or four hours.

The Konyaks are skilled hunters and like many Nagas they love to hunt. They are so adept at it in fact there is hardly any wildlife in places where they live. Driving around Nagaland I saw often saw young boys with sling shots searching for birds on which to test their aim — but few birds. My guide at Kaziranga National Park said many of the poachers there were Nagas. Learning how to use a daw, a long-handled knife, is a skill passed down through generations. Guns are often handmade by village gunsmiths. At Konyak New Year festivals in April,, young tribesmen in traditional attire dance with guns and knives (daws) amid smoke produced by gunpowder shots. Every male member of the Konyak tribe possesses a gun and a daw.

Book: “Konyaks—The Last Of The Tattooed Headhunters” Text by Phejin Konyak and photographs by Peter Bos, Roli Books, 240 pages

Konyak Naga Headhunting

The Konyaks were the last among the Naga tribes to give up headhunting and accept Christianity. In the old days, past, they were infamous for raid villages of rival tribes, often killings and taking the heads of enemy warriors. The decapitated heads were taken as trophies and boiled and hung the 'Baan' (a communal house). The number of heads taken was an indicator of power and status. The headhunting raids were driven by beliefs, about honour; revenged, loyalty and sacrifice and conducted in part to produce bountiful harvests. The killinng could be done with a knife, club or gun. In some Konyak homes today you can find knives and skull-headed clubs used in tribal warfare. Konyak headhunter are easily distinguishable by their facial tattoos. At festivals and sometimes in everyday village life they wear huge earrings made of animal horns, brass and bone necklace, and the hornbill feather headdresses.

Sugato Mukherjee wrote in The Diplomat: “The Konyak warrior tribe is one of the many Naga tribes. But what sets them apart from the rest of the tribes of this northeastern Indian state is their fierce headhunting history, which was part of their strong warrior tradition. Territorial conflicts between rival tribes and villages were resolved through warfare and Konyaks were feared for their headhunting skills – they beheaded their enemies and brought back the severed heads as trophies in a specially designed basket that they carried to the battles. The heads were then proudly displayed on the walls and doorways of the warriors. [Source: Sugato Mukherjee, The Diplomat, April 4, 2018}

“The Indian government put a ban on headhunting in 1960 but Konyaks say that the tradition continued for a few more years before limited aspects of modernity were accessible in these remote parts of Nagaland. The next generation of the Konyaks partially embraced a Baptist-based Christianity. The skulls of enemies used to be proudly displayed in doorways of Konyak huts. They have been buried in mass graves since a ban on the practice. But during festivals, some of the skulls reappear.”

Konyak Naga Tattoos

Sugato Mukherjee wrote in The Diplomat: “Keplang was only 18 when he joined his band in a fight. That was more than 50 years ago, but he remembers how he beheaded two of the enemy. The proudest moment was when the chieftain’s wife tattooed his face. The brass necklace that every Konyak wears on his chest shows a tattooed face. The tattoo on a Konyak warrior’s face could be done only by the chieftain’s wife. The process often took more than 10 hours and was an extremely painful affair.” Elderly Koyak women remember watching their mothers etching tattoos on the warriors’ faces. Hand-tapping is one of two traditional Konyak tattooing methods.

Radhika Iyengar wrote in Livemint: “When it was done, it was done using a handcrafted comb. Needles made from rattan palm spikes were bound together using plant fibres to make these tattooing combs. The body of a Konyak would become a human canvas, across which intricate motifs were laboriously hand-tapped, using an ink made from the resin of a Toona ciliata tree (commonly known as red cedar). [Source: Radhika Iyengar, Livemint, January 10, 2018]

“The day a tribe member was inked was a day of celebration. A pig or a cow would be slaughtered. Traditional sticky red rice would be prepared and rice beer would be served generously. “When an adolescent got his first chest or face tattoo, he laid stretched on his back on the floor," Phejin Konyak wrote. “His parents and friends squatted around him, holding his limbs to keep him still. A piece of rag was inserted into the mouth to suppress his groans from the pain, for it was considered unmanly to squeal."

“Headhunting and the ritual of tattooing were inextricably linked. After every raid, a warrior was decorated with diamond or lozenge markings on his body—in the colour of aubergine. He would be tattooed first on the face, neck, and then other body parts. “The different tattoos worn by a person conveyed his/her status, position, stage of life and achievements in Konyak society," Phejin said. There were idiosyncratic designs for those belonging to the aristocratic class, warriors, wedded and unwedded women. It was the women who were skilled in the art of tattooing. “For the men, the tattoos defined their rites of passage from boyhood to manhood, and their achievements in battle. For the woman, it defined her cycle of life of having passed from one stage of life to the other," adds Phejin. The women had tattoos mostly on the legs and arms—the designs being less complicated in form than those on the men. “The age when the girls began tattooing was around 8-10 years, while it was around 13-15 years for the males," says Phejin.

Last Headhunters of Nagaland

Some of the Konyak tribesmen that practiced headhunting into the 1960s were still alive in the late 2010s. Sugato Mukherjee wrote in The Diplomat: “In the remote villages of Nagaland ‘s Mon district, which borders Myanmar, a motley band of elderly former warriors are still visible — their tattooed faces and torsos bear witness to mortal combat and the once customary headhunting. It was tradition to honor the men with tattoos on their faces and chest as a mark of their heroic deeds. The elaborate process was done only by the chieftain’s wife. [Source: Sugato Mukherjee, The Diplomat, April 4, 2018}

“Now mostly in their 80s, these former warriors are distinguishable also by their large ear piercings made of animal horns and war hats made of hunted wild pigs’ horns, hornbill feathers, and wild bear or goat hair. They still carry the knives with which they killed. In another decade or so, the last of the headhunting warriors will be gone; however, the Konyaks say that the tribe’s warrior past will live on through the oral tradition and festivals.

“Ang Loe Khong, 85, killed 13 members of an enemy tribe in the two battles he participated in before headhunting was banned in 1960. Baiwang, 80, recounts his headhunting days. “We used to fight over land, rivers and sometimes, women,” he says. Wangnao had participated in a tribal war in his youth but did not return with an enemy head to his village. As was the custom, he got his tattoos on his chest only and not on his face. Ibiteng, 56, was born in the year headhunting was banned. He rues the ban and says that carrying enemy heads in the warrior basket was the high point in a Konyak’s life.”

Longwa

Longwa (42 kilometers, an hour and half drive, from Mon) is one of the largest Konyak villages and one where the old traditions are kept alive. It is also ‘trans-boundary village’ straddling the border of India and Myanmar. One half of the house of the powerful Angh falls within India whereas the other half lies in Myanmar. Although some village youths serve in the Myanmarese army, the village itself is governed by the Angh and the Village Council Chairman and lies mostly in India and has a fair number of Indian soldiers.. The Konyaks here were famous for headhunting and collecting of enemy skulls. Some elderly men have facial tattoos and brass skull necklaces indicating they have taken heads during battle. The traditionally belief was that head hunting boosted crop fertility. After the Konyaks adopted Christianity, the tradition of headhunting was completely stopped in the 1960s. Longwa plays an important role supplying get opium to Indian Nagaland.

There are both Indian and Myanmar schools in this village. Inhabitants of the village have dual citizenship- In the past, the Angh had sixty wives and his domain extended into Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh (India). .Today he rules over more than 70 villages. There are around twenty seven Konyak villages on the Myanmar side. Many more on the Indian side. Villagers don’t need a visa to move back and forth across the border and visitors can roam freely as long as they don’t venture too far into Myanmar. Some local families have their kitchen in Myanmar and bedroom in India. The chieftain’s tombstone is unmistakably Christian but the warrior baskets used to carry severed heads that hang overhead indicate the old ways have not been forgotten and are still respected.

I visited Longwa as part of a day trip. The first thing we did was go the Angh’s house to meet him and present him with a gift but he wasn’t there. Instead there was a bunch of old guys sitting around a fire smoking opium. Their supplier had just arrived by motorbike from Myanmar. I joined them for a couple bowls but didn’t want to smoke too much as opium sometimes makes me nauseous. I bought a bag of ganja, which is more to my liking, for about US$5. I walked around the village and visited a house filled with wild animal skulls — hunting trophies — and watched the village gunmaker make a gun by hand. He met one tattooed man — a man with facial tattoos, which usually means he had successfully killed someone and took his head as a trophy in a headhunting raid — wearing a business suit. It turned he was an influential headman that was key to conversion of the Konyak Nagas to Christianity. My guide said his father was one of first Christian converts and he was banished from his village for it. But once the aforementioned tattooed man converted, some time in the 1960s or 70s. it was the tipping point, and soon most of the village converted, and later neighboring villages, followed.

After that we had lunch featuring a curry made with Bhoot Jalokia, once the hottest hot pepper in the world. The dish wasn’t too hot and probably a relatively small amount of the chili was used. After that were set off to other villages with meeting tattooed men (ie former headhunters) as our chief goal. We went to went one village and met a guy in his 70 who had a necklace with four marking indicated he had killed four men. We went to another village surrounded by pineapples growing on steep slope and showed up during a Christmas Eve festival in which a cow heart was nailed to a post and cattle parts and organs were scattered all over tables. The tattooed man here was a headman in his 80s. We went to his hut and paid him some money so I could take some photos. He had eight markings on his necklace. The tattooed men said they boiled the head of their trophies. I asked one of them how he killed his victim. Did he hide behind some pushes and leap out and jab him with a spear while he was doing farming chores? He said, Yeah, something like that.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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