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. Some tribes tattooed their faces with swirling horns to mark success in head-hunting. The heads themselves 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 with numerous bands, a music school and even the occasional jazz festival.

Politically, Nagaland has seen a series of violent insurgencies and a powerful independence movement. The Naga were bought 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.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

India features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Video: the essence of India

Video: the essence of India

When Paris-based production company Bed & Breakfast reached out to us with a video that so perfectly captured the essence of India in all but a minute, we c…

04 May 2017 • Colt St. George insert_drive_file Article
In pictures: the little-visited treasures of South India

In pictures: the little-visited treasures of South India

After a week-long whistle-stop tour of central India's least-visited attractions, travel writer and photographer Lottie Gross shares her favourite photos. In…

07 Mar 2017 • Lottie Gross insert_drive_file Article
Indian trains: a traveller's survival guide

Indian trains: a traveller's survival guide

The Himalayan Queen, the Grand Trunk Express, the Deccan Odyssey… the very names of India’s trains are evocative of timeless style and old-school adventure…

09 Feb 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month