the last surviving headhunters of nagaland

Meeting the last surviving tattooed head hunters of India in Nagaland!

How’d it all begin?

In a winter afternoon of November, in a vast sparse foliage atop mountain, my heart was pounding even louder than a thunder while I was gaping at the human walking towards me. The closer he came; the pounding became even louder. The pounding became even louder than my thoughts of “I am finally meeting the last surviving tattooed head hunters of India in Nagaland!”

The vague headgear of goat feathers, mithun’s (an animal that resembles a buffalo) bones wrapped around his neck as an accessory, an animal’s skin wrapped around his body as clothes, and long bones of almost six inches piercing through both his earlobes started getting even clearer when he was coming closer.

He needed a stick to support him while walking because he was so weary and old.

My dream was becoming a reality. Was my heart beating because of that? Or was it because I was afraid of somehow accidentally disrespecting the tribe? It would apparently lead to my head being chopped off with his machete! Or was it because I was seeing a tattooed frail face walk towards me? Or because of the face that I knew the man walking towards me has killed and chopped the heads of its enemies? Or maybe it was because of all these reasons!

Meeting the last surviving tattooed head hunters of India in Nagaland!
My life’s first ever interaction with a tattooed headhunter! Do you see the faded tattoos on his face and torso?

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It was just a few months back that I learned about the tattooed head-hunters of Nagaland! I took a day to wrap my head around-


1) Head hunters – NOW? In THIS century?
2) In India?
3) Last surviving?
4) Tattoos all over body? Neck and face too!? How? Why?
5) Nagaland! One of the least explored places in our beautiful country.

a boy beside a hut and mithun skulls
Young generation of Konyak posing beside mithun’s skulls.

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Will my family allow me to travel in this last north eastern state? To meet the erstwhile HEAD HUNTERS? Boy, my head was getting dizzy with all the questions babbling around.

And, how do you feel when you tick something off your bucket list in just a few weeks or months?! Out of words, right?! It feels like something swept me off my feet and the land vanished!

That moment that I was waiting for was walking towards me. The moment of meeting the last surviving tattooed head hunters of India in Nagaland!

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His ear to ear grin was the most adorable thing! He was happy about ‘foreigners’ visiting his land, about ‘foreigners’ coming to know more about his culture and history.

That’s when I went to meet the erstwhile tribe. Our group sat around the traditional Naga Kitchen (a fireplace in a corner of an open hall where there’s fire 24×7, it has a long 3 layer bamboo basket storing meat, hanging on top of fire so as to preserve the meat) and the Angh – King of the Naga clan!

We sipped Lal chai and munched on bananas offered by the Konyak tribe of Mon, Nagaland, while our translator narrated their brave tales and helped answer our questions of their past life!

nagaland headhunters in a naga kitchen
The headhunters sipping lal chai in the naga kitchen

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Why is the Konyak Tribe famous?

Bravery

The Konyaks were famous for their valour by killing their enemies by chopping their heads.

Only till the year 1960 when the Government of India banned this practice and British Christian missionaries started preaching Christianity).

They believed that the soul resides in the head and by decorating those skulls around the gate would bring in good luck to the village.

The only surviving tribe

As on 2020, they are the only tribe who has a generation alive from their original culture.

The other tribes of Nagaland embraced civilization a few decades back, leaving only the Konyaks as a bridge between the present and the past of our ingenious tribes.

Tattoos

The men’s pride was in the tattoos on their body. The more the number of heads chopped, more the tattoos on the body. Only the bold and fierce headhunters had a tiger’s tattoo on their chest!

The thorns of trees were used as needles. The ink was made of resin, charcoal, and rice beer!

tattoo equipment made from barks
See the pointy needles? An equipment used to make tattoos for the Konyak Tribe

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Tattoo on a penis?

There is a famous folklore of this particular king who had ~16 wives. He had chopped of so many heads in all the battles that he had his entire body covered in tattoos.

He chopped off some heads in the next battle and had no space left to get any tattoos done.

Wondering what to do next, an idea struck him. Yes, he got a tattoo on his penis!

His wives took turns in tattooing him and spent hours in this process. Furthermore, they were barred from smiling or laughing during the tattoo making. If they did, they would have to suffer dire consequences by giving away their lives!

Therefore, he is still known as the bravest king in the Konyak tribe’s history!  

Sipping lal chai with the erstwhile headhunters in a Naga Kitchen

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Costs:

I went on a trip with Chalohoppo and you can see the details of the trip and cost here.

Although this is NOT in collaboration with them, albeit a little expensive, travelling with them is totally worth it due ot the vast knowledge of the North East India.

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A good-bye

While sadly bidding the headhunters a goodbye, I remembered an incident that took place with me on this trip.

“Kyu aaye ho yaha?” (why have you arrived here?) asked a young police cop while we were getting our permits approved to enter Nagaland.

We excitedly answered “Ghumne!” (to roam) to while he inquired again, “Koi aur acchi jagah nai milia ap sabko?” (didn’t you find a better place to holiday?)

I wish to meet him again to make him read this article for him to value and realize how close he is to our country’s unique gem of history!

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I hope you have enjoyed reading “meeting the last surviving tattooed head hunters of India in Nagaland”

and hope this article helps you plan your trip to meet them before they are no more in this world.

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4 thoughts on “Meeting the last surviving tattooed head hunters of India in Nagaland!

  1. Wow what an incredible experience and people. I’m so glad you got to check this off your bucket list. And the photos are stunning! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh, I was thrilled to check Nagaland off my bucket list, Alanna! I am glad you enjoyed my blogpost 🙂

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