The Konyak Naga tribe, also known as the headhunters is one of the largest tribes of Nagaland. The Nagas are one of the ethnic species of north-eastern India. Not much is known about the evolution of the Nagas, though they are believed to be of Tibeto-Burmese origin.
The remote village of Longwa in the Mon district of Nagaland is the home of this headhunter tribe. The Konyaks are known for their valour and has the reputation of being fierce warriors who take pride in severing the heads of their opponent warriors.
For many years, these parts of Nagaland were isolated because of the fierce headhunting practices. Until very recently in 1969, the practice of headhunting was followed here. With the arrival of the missionaries and Government interference, the practice was gradually abolished.
The Konyaks believed that a young man’s passage to manhood could only be completed after bringing back a head to the village. So they used to fight their enemies to kill, rip off their heads and bring the head for decoration in the Morung (a communal house). It was believed that human heads exposed a mystical force that would bring in good harvest and prosperity in the village. And in this process, they finally get adorned with tattoos on the face and chest. These tattoos are perhaps the most intriguing part of the tribe. The headhunting and the tattooing ritual were inexorably linked. The tattoos define their honour and pride – the more the number of heads they brought in, the more intricate tattoo they would get. It was like a distinction being made between the revered warriors and the common man. The Konyak Nagas believed that if they did not get tattoos, they would not be able to get food in the afterlife. For the women, tattooing defined their life cycle – their physical journey from one life stage to another.
The Konyak huts are usually seen adorned with the bones and skulls of buffaloes, deer, hornbills, boars and mithun. These are the reward for generations of hunting. During the headhunting days, the skulls of the captured enemies were displayed.
However, with the advent of modernity, things have been changing. With the British rule, the Nagas have been converted to Christianity by the Christian missionaries. As the headhunting practices were abolished, so were many of the traditional customs and rituals of the Konyaks. The skulls that were displayed proudly are now removed and buried. Their animist religious rituals have gradually disappeared and Christianity gained prominence. The village now has a few surviving headhunters left.
The Konyak huts are mainly made of bamboo, mostly spacious and large. The chief of the village is known as Angh. Interestingly, Longwa village was established much before India and Myanmar were created. The border now passes in between the village. So it is often said in zest that the Angh of Longwa wakes up in Myanmar and has his breakfast at India. But the border created by nations could not divide the people of the village. They are still together and respect the Angh a lot.
Longwa still remains sheltered from the vestiges of modernism with its thatched bamboo houses and the innocent villagers. Occasional concrete constructions do tell of the changes creeping into this part of the globe. Visit the place to know about the tribe and the culture.
The Aoling festival held usually in the month of April every year is the grand celebration of the Konyak Nagas.
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