The Head Hunters Of Longwa

I was in Longwa, a small village on indo-burma border in Nagaland and conversing with a head hunter, who suddenly got into his warrior mode stabbing the air with his spear. Longwa is one of the most popular tribal village which straddles the Indo-Myanmar border. This village is known for its head hunting tribe – The Konyaks.

‘I killed 10 men’ he recalled, with obvious pride. He the patted his metal necklace which has skulls carved on it and showed me his machete he used for his killngs. With every new head on his belt the tattoos grew bolder. The chaita or the queen of the clan was entrusted with the job of tattooing the warriors. The head hunters weren’t cannibals, they just believed in active defence to protect their lands and nothing can be more effective than striking fear in your rivals by cutting of your enemy’s head and exhibiting in your village. The Naga ended the gruesome head hunting practice in the 1960’s with the advent of Christianity. It’s been five decades since then but the legends still live through tales.

A Naga warrior had to go through a long and painful process to get one’s face tattoed. It was painful. It was more like dying everyday for two weeks he said.  A barb was dipped in black pigment and then hammered on to the skin for a face tattoo but the pain was worth it if it made him look more ferocious.

The tattoos not only belonged to warrior men but also to women. Women used to have rings tattooed around their legs up to their knees. The first ring when a girl reached puberty to mark that she is ready to be taken and then a series of rings up to the knee to signify that she is taken.

Opium is another inseparable part of the culture of Longwa and I soon joined them for some more conversation over smoke and grass. Bones of buffaloes, deer, boars and hornbills decorate the walls of every Konyak house – prizes from generations of hunting. The konyak cheftains place is an important place for tourists, quite evident from the villagers selling their souveniers to tourists outside his hut. Konyaks are famous for their bead art and metal carvings and here you can get a skull necklace with boar’s teeth or an art piece fashioned on a thigh bone with some delicate carving.

There are only shared rides plying from Mon to Longwa. Mon serves as the access points to many of the Konyak villages. If you are planning on travelling there it is always advisable to take a guide along. The shared rides usually 4WD’s move along a bumpy painful road but the entire journey is worth it. Don’t expect to have the comforts of modern life with the hotels speaking of which there are only two of them present there.

On arrival it’s a custom to present the chieftain with a bottle of rum or whisky as Naga is a dry state. Longwa is a gateway to a historical chapter that might get buried with the old head hunters. Much of their head hunters are in their eighties and nineties and with the death of the last of their generation the place might soon lose its charm.

4 replies on “The Head Hunters Of Longwa

  • Alyssa

    Such a cool recap and what an amazing experience! I can’t even imagine the face tattoos and I even have a sleeve haha also your photos are so beautiful I wish there were more!

    Reply
  • Eric Gamble

    what an amazing adventure to discover the Konkay culture in Longwa! I would love to talk with them and learn more about their facial tattoos and the headhunting culture.
    Guess it has always intrigued me growing up and watching movies where they are always demonized.

    Reply
  • Teja

    I love reading about these unique places and people, especially where I’m probably not likely to visit myself (unless by serendipity) – and so thankful someone else did it and told me all about it. Some of this account sounds very familiar to me as we have similar tribes in Borneo, yet the Konyak are quite far away from them, with entirely different peoples in between!

    Reply

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