On the Myanmar border, south of Arunachal Pradesh and east of Assam, Nagaland is physically and conceptually at the very edge of the Subcontinent. Home to the fiercely independent Nagas, its hills and valleys only opened up to tourism in 2000. One of India’s most beautiful states, it was once renowned for its head-hunters but is now ninety percent Christian. A visit to a Naga village provides a fascinating insight into a rapidly disappearing way of life. Most tour operators arrange guided trips; it is a good idea and far more informative to use a guide than going solo as some Nagas are tired of having their homes on show. If you do visit, bring a gift and offer money for the village to the chief (or angh).
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Traditional Angami villages surround the capital of Kohima, including Khonoma. From Mon you can see various Konyak villages such as Shangnyu. The Ao tribe inhabits Mokokchung, while Tuensang is home to six different tribes. The state’s terrain is also ideal for trekking and mountain biking. Naga festivals are tribe-specific, characterized by ritualistic dances and songs in traditional attire. A good time to visit is during the Hornbill Festival, held in the first week in December, which showcases Naga art, dance, music and sport. Check to see if you’ll need a permit to enter Nagaland.
Naga warriors have long been feared and respected, and have practised head-hunting within living memory. They are also skilful farmers, growing twenty different species of rice. They differentiate between the soul and the spirit, believing the soul resides in the nape of the neck, while the spirit, in the head, holds great power and brings good fortune. Heads of enemies and fallen comrades were once collected to add to those of the community’s own ancestors. The heads were kept in the men’s meeting house (morung) in each village, which was decorated with fantastic carvings of animals, elephant heads and tusks – you can still see examples in many villages. After decades of Christianity, dominated by the Baptists, age-old traditions were fading away and festivals such as the Hornbill have recently been introduced in an attempt to reinstate traditional Naga culture. Today, music is an important feature of modern Naga youth culture.
Politically, Nagaland has seen a series of violent insurgencies and a powerful independence movement. The Naga were brought within the Indian union when, following a series of Naga raids on Assamese villages, the British sought to push them back into the hills. Despite two victories over the British, the Angami Naga were made to sign a truce in 1879 and went on to be loyal to the British; during World War II the Nagas fought valiantly against the Japanese. At the time of Independence, the Nagas found their land divided, with the larger area falling to Burma; India’s promise of self-determination never materialized and today sections of Naga society still yearn for autonomy while politicians wrangle. Though a ceasefire is officially in place, violence occasionally flares up and the politics of independence have disintegrated into a quagmire of inter-political rivalries that pays little heed to the wellbeing of the Naga people.