A Journey Into The World Of The Naga People (Part 2)

Continuation of A Journey into the World of the Naga People

At one time, the naga people were headhunters. English anthropologist, writer and in time to be guerrilla fighter, Ursula Graham Bower described the Naga Hills as the “paradise of head-hunters.”Ursula Bower, author and anthropologist (died November 1988). Sh

Most villages had a skull house and each man in the village was expected to contribute to the collection. The taking of a head was symbolic of courage and men who could not, were dubbed as women or cows. There was nothing more glorious for a naga than victory in battle by bringing home the severed head of an enemy. There is however, no indication of cannibalism among the naga tribes. This practice is now entirely eradicated with the spread of modern education in the region.

Now this information has been passed on to me by Peter, who as I have already stated, is of the naga people. This is a man with a pretty amazing heritage and even though headhunting might turn a modern stomach, let’s not forget the things we did to others throughout the course of history.

The naga people are traditionally tribally organized, with a strong warrior custom. Their villages are sited on hilltops and until the later part of the 19th century, they made frequent armed raids on the plains below. Although the tribes exhibit variation to a certain degree, considering the diversity in their languages and some traditional practices, they have many similarities in their cultures which set them apart from the neighboring occupants of the region. Almost all these tribes have a similar dress code, eating habit, customs, traditional laws etc. Today the naga number around two million.

Apart from cultural contacts with the neighboring Ahoms, the rulers of Assam from 1228, the naga had little or no contact with the outside world. Real exposure to the outside world came with the British annexation of Assam in 1828 following the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826. In the 1830s, the British sent expeditionary forces, and in 1845, the colonial power succeeded in concluding a non-aggression pact with naga chiefs, who used to attack the bordering areas in Assam. But the naga violated the agreement time and again and their war and peace tactics continued. Attempts by the British after the 1830s to annex the region were met with sustained and effective guerrilla resistance from naga groups.

The British responded by dispatching numerous military expeditions until they succeeded in establishing a foothold by building military post in some areas in 1851. The conflict culminated in 1878 when naga guerrillas mounted raids on British camps. The response was brutal with the burning of several rebel villages by the British forces. The resistance met with failure and eventually the region fell under the administration of the British. Christianity soon grew among the naga and nowadays it is the majority religion.

Traditionally the naga live in villages. The village is a well-defined entity with distinct land demarcation from neighboring villages. Each has a dialect of its own, which fosters a strong sense of social solidarity within the village. Almost every home rears pigs, as pigs do not need much care and provide meat. The people of the village are held together by social, economic, political and ritual ties. The villages have their own identity, but not in isolation, as there are interdependent relationships with neighboring villages. The impact of modernization is slowly but steadily eroding the centrality of villages as a social unit, as large commercial towns are rapidly coming up in every region of the Naga Hills. This is bringing about drastic changes in the values, lifestyle, and social setup of the people.

I think this is enough for today.
Come back on this weekend for part three of the story of these amazing people.
Have a great day.


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