The Headhunters of North-East India | Infamous tales of the Konyak Tribe from Nagaland

3 min read
Image Source: Adam Koziol, Behance.

How cool would it be if your dad said to you someday that he’d like you to accompany him to his new conquest? He hands you this super-cool, super-sharp double-edged sword, the most graceful one you’ve ever seen. And now that you’ve grown, he thinks you probably have enough balls to chop some rival tribe chief’s head off. Then he tells you the best part about it, you get home and can get a tattoo on your face as a symbol of bravery and strength. But only if you make it back alive with a dead head in your hand dangling by the hair of the unfortunate who gave his life in your hands.

As a bonus, you get to keep the head you cut off like a trophy in your room as you sleep soundly at night for eight full hours and have no nightmares. Absolutely no nightmares.

I think my first tattoo would be a large Redendron logo tattoo like a mask over my face with the colours and everything and text saying “REDENDRON” right across my chest.
I’m kidding. That’d be frickin’ ridiculous.

Okay, getting back to the point of this article, the aim of which is to provide a glimpse into the lives of the legendary Konyak Tribe, who are quite an interesting bunch of people.

The Konyak tribe are a group of Naga people who are recognised among other Naga tribes thanks to their cool tattoos. They have tattoos all over their faces and bodies.

They are easily distinguishable from other Naga tribes thanks to their pierced ears and tattoos which they have all over their faces, hands, chests, arms, and calves. Iconic Facial tattoos were earned for cutting off rivals’ heads.

The Konyaks boast the highest population in Nagaland among all the other tribes. It seems all that headhunting sure paid off, huh?

Image Source: Adam Koziol, Behance.

Some members of this tribe inhabit not only large parts of Nagaland, chiefly residing in the Mon district of Nagaland, but also the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and even parts of Myanmar close to the Indo-Burman border.

Their beloved indigenous language, the omnipresent Konyak mother-tongue has its roots in the Northern-Naga sub-branch of the Sal subfamily of the Sino-Tibetan race.

They are known as the headhunters of North-East India. Until recently (not more than 50 years ago), they were known as a tribe very fond of war. They often attacked nearby villages of other tribes, chopping off heads of opposition warriors and bringing them home as trophies to hang in the Morong (a communal house).

The number of heads one had collected in the Morong indicated the power-level of a warrior and the tribe. Accordingly, the chiefs of villages were elected. Am I the only one who thinks they should make an anime about the Konyaks?

With the exception of these displays of violent behavior, the tribe members always used to and still, to this day, respect their traditions and other cultural practices, even though headhunting has ceased to be a part of the Konyak lifestyle.

They maintain a very disciplined community life with strict duties and every individual fulfils all his responsibilities without hesitation or protest.

The iconic facial tattoos of the elderly Konyak men are examples of the unique visuals of this unique cultural group that distinguish them from the rest of the world.

Image Source: Adam Koziol, Behance.

Both men and women used to get really awesome tattoos all over their bodies which display a professional level of artistry in the designs and patterns, which depict a direct visual of the tribe and their cultural practices.

Every Konyak village is ruled by one king, and the ones with the most skulls and heads always, always were chosen as kings. The kings of the village, turns out were kings of kings who used to have 3 to 6 other sub-kings, the number often proportional to the size of the village, to keep the kingdoms (a village with a King is a Kingdom) safe from invasion, and maintain their their social and supremacy in political and war affairs.

This king election practice still prevails in a few Konyak villages, with the majority of villages having adopted Christianity.

Every Sub-king is in charge of a different part of the village and to the Main King. Kings can be easily distinguished from the rest of the population, with their tremendously valuable blue beads around their ankles. The more blue-bead layers, the more powerful and respected they are.

Head-hunting was prevalent back in the past and the last head-hunting was reported to be in 1969. Severing the head of enemies was a sign of bravery and symbolically represented capturing the enemy’s spirit, which earned the warriors tattoos. Human skulls were often put up for display around houses of warriors, which is not a common sight today.

Image Source: Adam Koziol, Behance.

A large number of skulls were on display even in the villages, but they were buried on suggestion from student bodies and churches. The society being mostly Christian now, such displays of the horrific past are discouraged today.

Your thoughts?