A headhunter of the Konyak tribe

Dying Headhunting Tribe of Nagaland

Author: Abhishek Gurung
Date: 2021-05-21

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I guess we have come to a point where people ask fewer questions about Nagaland. I give credit to all the bloggers and vloggers who put an effort to visit Nagaland and demystify the picture we have of this Northeastern state of India. But there are certain people I come across and they still have millions of questions about Nagaland and its headhunters’ tribe, whether headhunting is still a thing in Nagaland. Absolutely not! We live in a modern world and such practices have decayed over time. 


But beyond the developed cities of Nagaland, you can still find headhunting tribes that dwell between the borders of India and Myanmar. Nagaland has 16 tribes and headhunting was practised by the Konyak tribe. It is believed that the Konyaks had a mass human migration from either Mongolia or southern China. They had no tribal identity, thus, headhunting was adopted as their root culture. This tribe formed their own language and interacted with outsiders as Nagas. 


What is this ancient practice of ‘headhunting’? 


The idea behind headhunting was to preserve the head of an enemy after killing him. This is an ancient practice that persisted among the Konyak tribe of Nagaland. The people of the Konyak tribe believed that a human skull has certain energy for life and it prospers the harvesting of crops. The headhunting in Nagaland came to an end in 1935, a few years before India got its independence in 1947. The headhunting practice was under threat after the introduction of Christianity in Nagaland in the 19th century.


A missionary school was opened in Nagaland by Edwin A. Clark, an American missionary, and by the late 20th century, over 98% of locals converted to Christianity. The beating of Nagaland’s traditional log drums and dance was silenced and replaced with hymns and gospels. Although Christianity united the different tribes of Nagaland with peace and a bonding language called Nagamese, the ancient tradition and culture were taken away, and till this day, old village folk especially are under a major identity crisis. 


To get a sense of how the headhunting community was, visit the village of Longwa on the outskirts of Mon district. It is here you can still find the elderly covered in tattoos as a sign of their heritage. The women of Konyak wear tattoos over their bodies and face as a sign that they are married and cannot accept any proposals. It also denotes his/her status and achievements in society. One interesting fact, the house of the village head called “Angh” is located in the middle of the international border of India and Myanmar. 


Headhunters of the Konyak tribe (Image Source: Google)

My Take on the Farthest Place I’ve Been To in Northern Nagaland

I have been to the town of Mon during summer while my mother was transferred for official work. Though she lived in Mon for a couple of months, a week was enough for me to explore the town. It was warm and nice; the tropical atmosphere grew on me as I went for long walks and soaked in the far-flung forests of Nagaland. I was young with no camera, I knew very little of the tribes, and beyond the great mountains were the International borders and the famous Longwa village. Thinking about it now makes me want to go back and do the things that I didn’t get to do. 

Town of Mon (Image Source: Google)

How to Go to the Town of Mon and Beyond? 


Assam’s Sonari has a shorter route to get to Mon, and as far as I know or seen on YouTube, the roads are less bumpy and have limited curves. I took the hard route, from Mokokchung. The roads were curvy right from the start and bumpy throughout the journey. I might have had the car stop multiple times because hill roads make me sick (but not anymore and I am proud of it). From the town of Mon, you can find many local taxis that will take you to Longwa. You can either book a round trip or one way if you choose to stay in the village. There are many local guesthouses and community houses owned by the village council and the church. 


Sonari to Mon


Assam State Transport has many buses travelling to and from all towns and cities. You might not find regular taxis from Sonari to Mon as it is not touristy. You can ask the auto driver to take you to Sumo Stand for Mon, Nagaland. The locals will know. Sumo from Sonali to Mon will charge between INR 200 to 500 (3 hours and 65 km).


Mokokchung to Mon


You can find the Sumo stand in the main centre of the town. There are many ticket-selling agencies. Back in 2005, I booked a one-way trip for 800 INR and had to go to the Sumo parking, which was located just below the main police point towards the civil hospital. However, due to the ongoing corona pandemic, the prices fluctuate. It’s best to get in touch with the ticket counters in Mokokchung. 


For travel within Nagaland or Nagaland and Assam, use the Network Travels. It is a mobile application; I have personally used this app for booking buses and it is convenient and safe. However, it is linked only to major destinations. 


Nagaland Tour Packages



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