Exclusive insight into lives of the headhunters Konyak Naga

by Dec 12, 2018Nagaland, Tribes & Culture, Trouvaille

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.

Konyak Naga

Konyak Tribes Nagaland 2

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.

Konyak Tribes Nagaland

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.

Konyak Tribes Nagaland 1 1

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.

Head Hunters of Nagaland

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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Image courtesy : Shutterstock

Amrita & Agni

Amrita & Agni

Travel Blogger & Writer

We are Agni & Amrita, who loves to explore the offbeat and wild. Our travel escapades and adventures have brought us to Northeast India time and again. While the vistas, culture, cuisines, tribes and festivals of the place intrigues and amazes us, we wish to bring Northeast India closer to the rest of the country through our written and visual stories.


  1. Medha Verma

    Very interesting and gory at the same time! To allow the passage into adulthood after bringing a human head doesn’t sound very appealing in today’s day and age and I am glad that headhunting tradition, at least with human heads, has stopped. I also found it intriguing that the tattoos were directly linked to the number of heads one managed to bring in, representing honour and pride!

    • Darko

      Only face tattoos are linked to the cut heads. Others were earned for participation in a war or for bravery hunting a tiger or a buffalo.

  2. Rachelle

    Wow, what an interesting tribe. It’s so amazing to think that they’ve been practicing head hunting until just a few decades ago. Your pictures are simply stunning portraits. I love learning about different cultures like these, especially when they’re so different from my own. Nagaland would definitely be an interesting place to visit to see the bamboo houses.

  3. amar singh

    I was born in India yet never had the chance to visit Nagaland and regret it but again I did not have access to posts like these to show me what was on offer . The tribes definitely have maintained their culture and traditions for such a along time and its incredible . The visuals that you have on this post of the tribals are just sunning and portray a life and time that they still lead which is far from the modern world. I would love to visit Nagaland on my next visit to India and experience the headhunters traditions and lifestyle.

  4. Lisa

    This is an interesting tale! I mistook this tribe from one from the Amazon, but clearly I was wrong. Though quite a gory tradition, it’s one that belongs to them. I’ll just be sure to keep my distance lol!

  5. Sandy N Vyjay

    Though the thought of headhunting sounds macabre, the subject does hold a morbid fascination. It must have been a unique experience coming face to face with people who were once head hunters. Loved reading about these people who of course are now leading normal lives, but the spectre of the past still haunts them. Loved reading this post on an unusual but nonetheless fascinating.

  6. Daniel

    What a fascinating experience this must have been! I had a similar experience in a few other parts of the world but it’s things like this that make me want to explore Nagaland and the Northeast of India even more. I love learning about different tribes and their traditions and ways of doing things.

  7. Cat lin

    The Konyak Naga Tribes sounds an interesting tribe. The British may have been really intimidated when they first made contact with this tribe.

    Visiting tribes like the Konyak Naga is like traveling back in time. They show us how life is before the modern times. Visiting them could be eye-opening.

  8. Yukti Agrawal

    I never knew of Konyak tribe of Nagaland before reading your post, but it is very interesting to know about them through your post. I know something about Nagas but great to know that they are Tibeto-Burmese origin. It must be scary to see skulls hanging and also it is good that Angh and the villagers are not divided by the borders. You have taken stunning portrait shots.



  1. Interesting cultures around the world | Tale of 2 Backpackers - […] India is the home to many fascinating tribes and interesting cultures around the world, but the Konyak tribe or…

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