The Nagas are an old warrior tribe, which according to the myths are of Mongoloid origin. They had probably migrated from the border regions of China and settled down at the foothills of the Himalayas. They had kept aloof from the rest of the tribes until their lifestyle was disturbed by the British.
After the British Raj came into India, the Nagas took up Christianity which was introduced in their land. Soon many of their rituals changed, including the one where they resolved issues by a “headhunting” fight. The Naga Warriors fought to become an independent republic but joined India later. They now make a living through a number of activities like agriculture and wood crafting. There are also people who have pursued higher education and are achievers. The beautiful tribe, which forms an origin for the colorful stories, inhabits the northeastern states of the country.
Nagas – The Warriors of Old India
One of the most rebellious tribes of British India, the Naga tribe now occupies the state of Nagaland, north-western Burma, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and parts of Assam. The Nagas are a huge warrior tribe, who can be divided into several other tribes, forming a huge population of about 2 million. Earlier the Nagas had their own Gods and Goddesses, but now around 95% of them are Christians. They speak almost 36 different languages although English is their official language and they also know how to talk in Hindi.
Settlements of Naga Warriors
The major population of the Naga warriors still live in villages atop hills or mountains. Their houses are made out of bamboos with thatched rooftops. Their villages are guarded on the four sides by ditches, pitfalls, and stone walls, with one side, kept open.
Different tribes have different ways of constructing their houses. The houses of Naga Warriors are usually single storied with different materials used for roofing, like thatched grass, bargeboards and wood. The houses have compartments for storing food, cooking, and sleeping. There are small spaces outside the houses used as gardens and meeting places by the family members.
Cultural Practices of Naga Tribes
The different tribes among the Nagas have different cultural practices developed by their own respective societies. The Nagas are believed to be of the Mongolian race. They might have migrated from China to settle in the foothills of the Himalayas. They used to speak Tibeto-Burman dialect with their culture being very diverse. Initially, they occupied a very small region near Myanmar, but they extended their territory towards Assam, Naga Hills, and Cachar Hills.
Among the Naga tribes, a few are polygamous while others are monogamous. Marriage is usually a long procedure involving marriage brokers. The dowry sum is paid by the bride’s parents together with a small land being given to the couple to start a new life on. In other tribes, however, the couples may live with the parents of the groom. The brides are allowed to choose their husband in some tribes, while divorce and widow remarriage is common. However, the widow may not marry the family member of her deceased husband. In some tribes, where polygamy is allowed, the wife of one man might have to maintain conjugational relations with his brothers or immediate relatives on his command.
The property of the house is divided in such a manner that the eldest son gets the best of everything after the widowed wife receives her one third from the property. The daughter may have a part of the property but only till she is alive. After her death, the property returns to the eldest son.
After the children are born they stay with their mothers till they are old enough to attend the Morung. The morung is the place where the children live to learn to become useful members of the society, much like the Hindu gurukuls. The children learn to take up responsibilities and the art of warfare. The society is very open about sex before marriage.
The villages have an administrative head and councils. There are various bodies handling the various matters of the village like tax collection and settlement of disputes. Earlier the conflicts were resolved on the basis of the wars where the one who could cut off the head of his opponent was the winner. These head cutting wars formed a part of the rituals of the Naga warriors. They had a community skull house where they used to hang these skulls that they had won after they defeated their enemies and cut their heads off. The men who did not contribute to the community skull house were considered impotent by the other villagers.
Food and Agriculture
The common forms of agriculture are shifting agriculture and terrace farming. The irrigation is done with the help of bamboos and the crops are consumed as well as sold.
Commonly, maize, millets, oilseed, gourds, cucumbers, chilies, and mustards are grown. Cotton and jute are also cultivated. Grass and wood are used for housing, and wood is also used for fuel consumption.
Animal husbandry is also practiced among the Nagas. Cows, pigs, dogs, cats, bees, and goats are the usual farm animals. Dogs, goats and mountain goats are the animals used in animal sports which form a part of the tribal recreation.
The Naga warriors are a backward tribe with poor living conditions. Their main source of income is agriculture although they carry out a number of other activities. They manufacture clothes of various colors such as blue, black, scarlet, pale terra-cotta, and yellow. Naga blacksmiths are also found together with potters and basket makers. They make a number of beautiful wood art pieces and bamboo mats.
A form of barter system is also carried out by them where they exchange some goods like pan, cotton, chilies, and gum from Liyang trees for salt and dried fish which in turn are traded for pigs and fowl. They also trade cotton with the people from the plains.
The household work is left exclusively to the women while the men carry out most of the agricultural and other outside work. Raising the children is also left exclusively to the women.
Costumes of Naga: The Indian Tribe
The Naga warriors use very less cloth to cover their bodies. The men use loincloth to cover while women wear mekhala which remains above the knee. The upper part of their body is covered by shawls exclusive to different tribes. Jewelry of metals and beads add beauty to the tribal women. Ornaments like armlets, amulets, anklets, bracelets, earrings, and headgear are often worn.
Religion and Beliefs in Naga tribe
Most of the Nagas have accepted Christianity after the religion was brought into their land under the British Raj. However, a few are still attached to the original Naga religion and traditions. The different Naga tribes have different Gods but Kenepfu is the main god and they believe him to be the creator whereas Rutzeh is the god of death.
They have practitioners of their religions, who conduct ceremonies, look after the old and the sick, inaugurate seed sowing and inaugurate harvesting of crops. According to Naga customs, there are gennas or divisions of one’s life which imply how one should carry out their lives.
The Naga warriorss, like most of the other tribes, have traditional art and dance forms. They take part in Nagaland’s famous Hornbill Festival. They specialize in wood crafting. They can even make wooden human figures which range from different sizes. Life-size human figurines are also constructed to be laid on the grave. The Naga people have been through a lot of conflicts inside and outside their tribes. Their rituals of headhunting have made for amazing tales. However, the Naga warriors have also fought for their freedom to become a united republic, a nation separate from India. But they stayed back with us, to beautify our country even more and to add a zest of color to the festivities of India.
Dear Ms. Natasha,
I am glad you have taken the concern to write about the Nagas. Limited by the many difficulties, faced both internally and externally, it is undeniable that the Naga people are still struggling to develop and be at par with the rest of the country and world.
Nonetheless, let me state my observation here, there is a danger in “Generalization”, for instance your statement, I quote “Nagas, being a backward tribe, still live in villages atop hills or mountains”. I would like to challenge that statement and hopefully help you in your future writings by making some counters. 1. “Nagas being backward” : a. Are all Nagas backward? b. Literacy rate of Nagaland stands at about 79% and rising. (c) A large number of Nagas have accomplished their studies/research from Top International universities(Oxford, Stanford, Regents, Cambridge- to name a few ) and are working with National and International organisations, Government and Institutions as Academicians.
2. “live in villages atop hills or mountains”- a. Can we say that only backward people live atop hills and mountain tops (Strategy: Please browse for “Battle of Khonoma” – a Tourist village built on mountains/hill tops or refer to https://www.mapsofindia.com/india-tour/nagaland/khonoma-a-naga-village-remembered/) This village also has a great number modern day writers, scholar and academicians.
b. We feel humbled to have other prominent people like Dr. T. Ao, the first captain of the Indian football team is from Changki village (Apology to Nagas Brothers/sisters if I have not done justice to other prominent persons).
c. Nagaland feels privileged to have Nationally/Internationally renowned fashion designers who proudly represent their country India (For reference https://www.nelive.in/nagaland/fashion/6-naga-fashion-designers).
Ms. Natasha, and other readers, kindly do not get me wrong. The point I want to make is, we often build our mindset on what has already been served on the platter hence, leading to misconception. It is not crucial of what the world thinks of the Naga people, the worldview will either remain or change depending on their personal encounter. However, as a reader my initial impression would be that your knowledge of the Naga people is purely based on facts which are redundant and archaic, from sources that have not been updated. History is important, but determining the status quo of an entire People’s group based on Archaic data may create misconception.
My question to readers in conclusion
1. what makes a person/tribe or people backward?
2. What standardized scale can be used to segregate and categorize a group of people as backward?
If you are sincere about your writing, please feel free to correspond with me via email and I would be glad to give you updated first hand data.
May you take this critique of mine positively. Thank you for your sincere effort to write this article. My earnest prayer that your writing will grow as you continue your journey.
Dr. T. Ao is from Longjang village not Changki.
Sorry mistaken reply…
he is from changki village. need to get my mind straight. very sorry. thanks
“Nagas live in huts on hilltops”, Have you even visited Nagaland to write an article like this ? Do your research with more clarity.
please note above mentioned thoughts are solely writer’s words and findings, however there are a lot of top searched websites on the same also state the same.
Please find below mentioned links for your better ref.