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E-Pao! Manipur - Affinities between Nagas and Tribes of Southern Seas

Affinities between Nagas and Tribes of Southern Seas
By:- R.B. Thohe Pou *



Abstract: The study of similarities between Nagas and tribes of southern seas (Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan etc) is to trace the origin of Nagas. The present study of affinities between Nagas and tribes of southern seas is convincing that they had same ancestor/group and originated from same place.

Similarities between Nagas and Tribes of Southern Seas

The comparative study of the Nagas in India and Myanmar and some of the Indigenous People of Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan shows their similarities in their socio-cultural life. The Naga scholars believed that Nagas lived in the Chindwin and Irranwandy valley before they migrated to Naga Hills.

They also believed that they lived near the Island or Southern seas coastal areas and retreated to north west of Myanmar and later migrated to the Naga Hills - while the other groups of Naga went further to the southern seas of Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Philippines.

Many authorities on Naga suggested that the custom and tradition of Naga is very resembled with those tribes in Southern Seas (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippine etc). Some of the tribes living in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Taiwan are quite similar with the Naga people in many aspects.

The custom and tradition practices by Nagas like Headhunting, Dormitory system, Tattooing, Platform burial, looms, terraces rice field etc are resemble to those tribes in the Southern Seas. Mc Govern writes that Nagas are very similar to the Dyaks and Kayans of Borneo, Bataks of Sumatra and certain groups of Formosa (Taiwan) and several other groups in Philippines.

Some of the other writers like, W.C. Smith, Barrows, Shakespeare etc, described the affinities of Nagas with those tribes of Malaysia, Borneo, Philippines, Indonesia and Sumatra.

I. Affinities between Nagas and Igorots (Philippines Tribes)

Barrows writes on Igorots, the tribe of Philippines that it is the customs of all these tribes to chop off the head of the victims in battle or murder and carry them home as trophies, where they form the object of feasting and celebrations.

The Igorots (Philippines tribe) are grouped into six ethno-linguistic groups like Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg (Apayao) Kankanaey and Kalinga. The ethno-linguistic groups of Igorots like Bontoc, Isneg and Kalinga were well known for their Headhunting like the Nagas in India. The Nagas carried home the chop off head of the victims as trophies and celebrated with other people in the village. The practice of headhunting was based on the belief that great power lies in human head.

It was also believed that when the headhunter brought the head of their enemy - it brings fertility and bumper crops in their fields. The warriors or headhunters who brought the heads of the victim were highly respected in the society in those days. Headhunting was gradually changed with the advent of Christianity to Igorots and Nagas. The tradition and custom of the Igorots tribe in Philippines is very similar to the Naga tribes in India in many aspects. Some of the similarities in their tradition and customs are given below as –

"The Bontoc live in the bank of the Chico River. It used to be a group that was known because of its Headhunting practices. Present day Bontocs are peaceful agricultural people who have, by choice retained most of their contacts with other people…The Isneg inhabits in the banks of the Apayao River and its tributaries in Northern Luzon. Like most erstwhile Headhunters. The Kalingas are noted for their strong sense of tribal awareness and the peace pacts they have made among themselves. They practice both wet and dry rice farming and they have developed an institution of peace pacts which has minimized traditional warfare and Head-hunting."1

The headhunting practiced was reported in Philippines by Martin de Rada in 1577 and this practiced was abandoned formally by Kalingas group of Luzon only in the beginning of the 20th century.2 Headhunting in Naga Hills virtually ceased soon after the British commenced to control over in many Naga villages, though it continued in Tuensang areas and some other villages where British interference is ineffective. The last headhunting in Naga Hills was reported and recorded in 1958.3

The Morung (Nagas Dormitory) system practiced in olden days was same with those Igorots. The young Naga boys and girls slept in their Morungs (dormitories) in ancient time. In those days, the Morung was the center of education to learn many things in their lives. Different kinds of training were carried out in Men's Morung. In every village there were two or three Morungs both for boys and girls.

The young men and women continue to live in Morung till they are married. The boys go to girls Morung but the girls were not permitted to enter in boys Morung. After the advent of Christianity in Naga Hills - Morungs were vanished from the village. The Bontoc and Kankanaey groups of Igorots were also well known for their dormitory system. The Bontoc,

"Traditionally, young men and women lived in dormitories and ate meals with their families. This gradually changed as with advent of Christianity…Two famous institutions of the Kankana-ey Mountains province are the Dap-ay the men's dormitory and civic center, and the Ebgan, the girl's dormitory where courtship between young men and women took place."4

During the time of dormitory system prevailed in Naga society - the courtship between young men and women took place in girls' dormitory. Still some young boys used to sleep together in a house in some villages but the Morung system is no more existing where courtship is carried out like in the olden days. The young men going to girls' house to have fun together or courtship is still very common in some Naga villages.

The Ibaloi and Ifugao groups are also well known for their prestige feast of the wealthy. This kind of feast is quite similar to the Nagas' Feast of Merits. During the Naga's Feast of Merit, the host or donor of the feast offer to kill lots of Mithun (Buffaloes), Cows etc and distributed to the villagers. The host also freely provided abundant of rice beer to the villagers. The Feast of Merit continues for 4-5 days in many tribes but the number of days of feast varies from one tribe to another tribes.

"The Ibalois's feast is the Pesshet, a public prestige feast of the wealthy, that could last for weeks and involving the butchering and sacrifice dozens of animals…The Ifugao's highest prestige feast are the "Hagabi" for the most wealthy, and the "Uyauy" a feast for those immediately below the wealthiest."5

The Naga people also have the similar system of feast like Hagabi and Uyauy for the rich and very rich people. The amount of distribution of meats and offering rice beer is depended on the donor of the Feast of Merit (Zhosou) according to his richness. In Naga society - a wealthy person repeats the Feast of Merit a number of times. The wealthy people treated the Feast of Merits more than one village, while the less wealthy people treated the feast only in their village. It also depends on richness of the donor to butcher how many animals for the villagers.

One of the Naga Scholars late Shimray wrote, "The philosophy behind the performance of feast of merit is that the performer is honoured when he alive and remembered after death. The deeper philosophy involved is, however, the sense of generosity and the warm heartedness towards the poor people who are fed on the occasion."6

The last Feast of Merit in Poumai Naga tribe was held in January 2004 at Liyai Khullen village and another Feast of Merit was held in 1999 in Koide village (My native village). The Feast of Merit is hardly reported in 21st century in many Naga villages since most of the Nagas adopted Christianity. The heathens also seem giving less important in Feast of Merit due to influence of the Christianity.

The Ifugao and Kalingas groups are good in terrace rice cultivation and their type of terrace farming is similar with the Nagas. "The country of the Ifugao in the southern part of the Cordillera region is best known for its famous rice terraces, which in modern times have become one of the big tourist attractions of the Philippines… The Kalingas…practice both wet and dry rice farming…The Kankan-ey built showing terraces to maximized farm space in the rugged terrain of the Cordilleras"7

W.C. Smith an authority of Nagas also pointed out the similarities between Nagas and Dayaks of Kalimantan (Borneo) in rice terrace cultivation. There are lots of similarities between the Nagas and the tribes of Igorots in Philippines in terrace cultivation. All the Naga tribes practiced terrace fields cultivation especially in Poumai Naga areas, where there is no much shifting cultivation in present context.

About the disputes in Naga village, some of the leaders (elders) in the village deals all kind of disputes arise in the village. Naga society is a democratic society; all the people involved in any disputes depending on the seriousness of the problem. But the leaders in the villages settle the disputes, which do not need to take the voices of the public. The kind of dispute settlement by the Naga leaders is parallel to those Kalinga societies. The Kalinga society, "Disputes are usually settled by the regional leaders, who listen to all sides and then impose fines on the guilty party. There are the formal council meetings but carry a good deal authority."8

II. Affinities between Nagas and the Tribes of Malaysia

The largest state in Malaysia, Sarawak is comprised of ethnically diverse population, which consists of both the indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The indigenous people constitute of Bisayuh, Kenyaks, Iban, Malays, Pennan, Malanau, Kayan, Kelabit, Muruts and Pennan. The indigenous people according to the 2000 Census is 1.46 Millions, forming 70.6% of the total population of 2.07 millions.

The Ibans also known as Sea Dayaks represent the largest group with a total population of 6000,000, which is 29.1% of the state total population. Like the Malays, the Ibans are of Proto-Malay decent; their origin traced back to Yunnam China.9 The Nagas tradition and customs have affinities with some of the Malaysia tribes in many aspects. The Iban, reputed to be the most fearsome of the Borneo's headhunters,

"It was not so long ago that the Iban celebrated the captured heads with a great festival called Gawal Kenyalang (the Hornbill festival). It was believed that the magical power of the heads would bring strength, virtue and prosperity to the long house."10

Peter Kunstadter who studied the south Asian tribes also mentioned about the headhunting in Sarawak and the rest of Borneo, "This is all tied up with the past traditions of headhunting and aggression and warlikness, which were very much a part of pagan animism among the hill peoples of Sarawak and the rest of Borneo."11 The reason or the purpose of headhunting by the Iban is quite similar with the Nagas.

The Nagas take a head to reveal his manhood also they believed that bringing a head to their village brings prosperity in the village. Nagas had their own beliefs about the value of human heads. They believed that heads of those belonging to villages other than their own would add to the fertility of the soil. It is also an important factor to bring the head to be recognized in the society12. The British intervention on Nagas headhunting after 1832 and introduction of Christianity brought to cease in headhunting. No longer, the Nagas practice headhunting but the skulls of man hanging in old Nagas houses can be still found in some remote villages.

"Thankfully the Iban no longer headhunt, and have adopted a peaceful agrarian lifestyle. Any modern day visitor to an Iban longhouse will testify that they are a generous, hospitable and placid people…. Although the majority of Iban are now a days Christian, many traditional rituals are still practiced, including the Gawai Dayak (harvest festival) Gawai Kenyalang (Hornbill festival) and Gawai Antu (festival of the dead).

The traditional Iban religion is a fusion of animistic and Hindu-Buddhist beliefs, and they worship a triumvirate of gods under the authority of Singalang Burung, the bird-god of war, Iban woman are superb weavers, using the back strap loom, while Iban men are excellent silversmiths."13

The ancient Nagas and the Iban people were resembled in their tradition and customs, like Headhunting, animistic religion, harvesting festival, hornbill festival, woman-weaving etc. The Harvesting festival and Hornbill festival are still very common in Nagaland (Nagalim). Every year the Hornbill festival is hold in Nagaland. Recently the Hornbill Festival in Nagaland was held from 1st –5th December 2004 at newly constructed Naga Heritage Complex at Kisama.

The majority of the Nagas had adopted Christianity but they still practiced traditional festival like the Iban people. Both ancient and modern people of Iban are similar with the Nagas in India. The Nagas women are good in weaving clothes like the Iban women. All the Naga tribes have different beautiful color of shawls representing their own tribes.

There are also many Nagas expert in blacksmiths. The Nagas men made all kinds of sword, dao, knife, spear etc for different purposes. Nagas are similar with the Iban people in religion, tradition and custom, festival, economic activities etc. Besides, they also have similar attitudes to the outsiders and to their fellow people. The Nagas are generous, hospitable, frankly, honest and amicable, as many authors on Nagas had written about the Nagas.

The Iban were largely known for their fierce reputation as warriors, particularly because of their headhunting tradition. In fact, it was as recent as during World War II, the community celebrated the victorious warriors of a headhunting raid with a grand festival called the Gawai Kenyalang (the Hornbill Festival). The tradition of headhunting gradually came to an end after the British made it illegal after the war.

A large majority has become Christians although they still maintain their strong cultural identity and heritage, keeping their traditional beliefs.14 The Nagas are very resemble with those nomadic people of Penan tribe. Those Penan people who have converted into Christianity no longer live the nomadic life and have settled in long houses.

Their long houses are similar with the ancient Naga houses where they built the big houses for the village chief and dormitories. The Orang Ulu another group of people from Borneo also resembles with the Naga people in some aspects. Most of the Orang Ulu people are now Christian and they are warm and hospitable people like the Nagas. Their long houses and woodcarvings houses are similar with the Naga ancient houses.

III. Affinities between Nagas and Indonesia Tribes

There are some affinities between Naga tribe and some of the indigenous people in Indonesia. Some of the tribes in Indonesia like Batak, Dayak, Toraja, Bugis etc have some resemblance in their customs and tradition with the Naga people. Headhunting, house structure and social structure is similar with Naga tribe in India. Today, many Bataks tribe living in Sumatra were converted into Christianity and Islam.

There are six groups of Batak living around Danu Toba who distinguish themselves with their languages and habits.15 The Nagas and Bataks tribes are parallel in their tradition and customs. Both the tribes were well known for their headhunting. They were isolated for centuries from other contacts living in the hilly regions.

"The Bataks, is infamous tribe of former cannibals and headhunters. Their bloody feuds and guerrilla attacks on each other's villages gained an apparently well-earned reputation for ferocity. They also practiced ritual cannibalism in which a token piece of flesh – of a slain enemy or of one judge guilty of a major violation of traditional laws – was eaten. The heads and hands of war captives were preserved as trophies."16

The Bataks also preserved the head of the war victims as trophies like the Naga tribe. In those days, reputation of man or manhood is reveal through their headhunting skills and bravery. The indigenous people in Borneo (Indonesia), known to the outside world as the Dayaks live by shifting rice cultivation and by farming of Sago palms. They are divided into different tribes, which were formerly prone to the internecine warfare that their headhunting customs demanded. Although, they are now mostly converted to Christianity, their cultures retain a great deal of their original vigor.

Traditionally, the Dayaks live in communal long houses known as Lamin in East and West Kalimantan, Sarawak and Brunei. Long houses are usually built parallel to the river, and rice barns and storehouses containing valuable is kept separate from the main building, to keep away from fire.17 In most of the Naga villages, there is separate house like those of Dayak tribes for living and storehouse.

Storehouses are build near to the main house, which keep rice barns, millets and other barns to avoid fire from main house incase any fire broke out from main house. The seafaring Bugis are found all over the Indonesian archipelago. They have settled in the Riau Islands, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sumbawa and Malaysia and have trading with all the smaller Islands. The Bugis have traditionally lived in pile-built wooden houses with slatted bamboo floors similar in style and layout to the basic Malay prototype. The characteristic decorative feature is a pair of crossed roof finials symbolizing buffalo horns.18

Some of the Naga tribes also lived in pile-built houses like those Bugis. The Nagas old house structure is very similar to that of Bugis old house, which have a pair of crossed roof symbolizing the buffalo horns. The Nagas who treated the 'Feast of Merit' to the people have such kind of house structure with diagonally crossed wooden beam, which is attached to the eaves of the house symbolizing the buffalo horns.

The house with diagonally crossed wooden beam above the eaves is gradually vanishing. There is one Church at Senapati, Manipur where we can find the old Naga house structure with diagonally crossed concrete beam placed above the eaves symbolizing the buffalo horns. The Tana Toraja is located in the northern part of the South Sulaweshi Province.

Toraja is a name of Bugis origin given to the different people of the mountainous regions of the northern part, which remained isolated until recently. Their native religion is megalithic and animistic, and is characterized by animal sacrifices, ostentatious funeral rites and huge communal feasts.

"In former times, Toraja villages were sited strategically on hilltops and fortified to such an extent that sometimes access was only possible through tunnels bored through rock. This was all part of then common Indonesian custom of headhunting and inter-village raids. The Dutch pacified the Toraja and forced them to leave the hills and to build their villages in the valleys, and they also introduced wet-rice cultivation."19

The Nagas villages are also situated on hilltops and fortified in ancient time to protect from their enemies' attack. There was headhunting between inter-village and tribe so it became necessary for them to fortify and to have village gate in all the villages. In the case of Nagas, the British pacified them and later there was no headhunting. On the front of the wall in most of the Toraja important houses are decorated with wooden buffalo head, adorned with actual horns.20

In most of the houses in Naga villages also have similar decoration like the Toraja houses with carved wooden buffalo horns and real buffaloes horns hanged on the front of the wall. The number of real buffalo hanging on the front wall is depends on how many cattle killed during the Feast of Merit. But the other carved wooden horns are depended on the sculptured and designed of the house owner. The carved wooden buffalo horns and real buffalo horns hanging on the front wall of the house are still found in many Nagas villages.

IV. Affinities between Nagas and Taiwan Tribes

There are ten tribes in Taiwan (Formosa) and each tribe have different culture and tradition. The Puyuma and Tsou tribes have some resemblance with Nagas tribe in their tradition. The Payuma tribe had the institutions for males and they stayed in their Assembly Hall, so as to build them strong bodies to protect their tribe. Before men get married they stay in their assembly hall.

These groups are divided according to their ages and they are trained to defend their tribe.21 The Nagas had very similar assembly hall or Morung, where males stay there and trained in different ways in singing, folkdance, fighting and other skills. The Naga men also lived in their Morung till they get married. To quote Elwin Verrier, he writes,

"Prominent in many villages is the Morung or dormitory for the young unmarried men – some tribes also have small house for the unmarried girls. The morung are guard-houses, recreation clubs, centres of education, art and discipline and have an important ceremonial purpose."22

In Naga society even the females group also have assembly hall or Morung (dormitory) where different age group sleep together. The different activities carried out in Puyuma assembly hall and Nagas Morung is similar in many aspects. The TSOU tribe of Taiwan also have assembly hall. The young men lived in Assembly Hall and are trained in different skills before they are married.

There are traditional taboos prohibiting the women from setting foot into the "Kuba" (the Assembly Halls)23 Like the Tsou tribe, the Naga tribe also have a kind of Assembly hall called "Morung". The young man folk stay in Morung and were trained in different skills till they are married. The Naga young woman folk have separate Morung, the man can go to female's Morung but the females are prohibited to enter into man's Morung, which is also similar with the Tsou tribe. The Nagas belief that if woman enter the men's dormitory, it would bring misfortune in the village, thus woman was restricted to enter in men's Morung.

"Headhunting was a cultural practice of some of the indigenous tribe of Taiwan. The men of the Atayal tribes were required to bring back a head to earn manhood and the ability to marry headhunting struck fear in many settles on the Island who gave the people the name "savages". The Japanese abolished the practice during their occupation from the 1890s to the 1940s."24

The Naga tribes also required like the Atayal tribe of Taiwan to bring back a head to earn manhood and ability to get marry a beautiful woman in the village. For those people who could not get even single head couldn't elevate their reputation and status in the society in those days. In those days, bringing a choke off head from other village is a must to be highly recognised and to earn high status in the society.

The similarities in custom and tradition of Nagas with some of the Indigenous tribe in Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan is convincing that once the Nagas lived near the Southern Seas or Archipelago and migrated from the southern seas to the present Naga Hills.

It also believed that some of the indigenous groups of Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan were the same group of Nagas who retreated from the southern seas of Myanmar. Some of the Naga scholars believed that some of the descendants of Nagas were left near the seacoast and those people went further to the southern archipelago.

The Malay tribe is the largest ethnic group in Malaysia, accounting for more than half of the population in Malaysia. Their origin is traced back to Yunnam China through the Proto-Malays and Deuteron-Malays, which belong to the broader-based Malayo-Polynesian group of races. These early aboriginal groups first reached the Peninsula around 2000BC.

Since their arrival, the cultures of the Peninsular Malays have been shaped and reshaped through many influences from those vicinity areas of Java and Sumatra, the Indian sub-continent, China, the Middle east, and the West, as they have large trade with them, resulting to variation in customs and social identies.25 Some of the Nagas writers also traced back their origin to Yunnam Province of China, which assumed that some of the tribes in Southern Seas are to be the same ancestor.

Conclusion

The above comparative study in affinities and origin is convincing that some of the indigenous tribe of Malaysia and other tribes in southern seas of Philippines, Taiwan and Indonesia are the same ancestors/group and have same origin of place. Some of the Nagas writers traced back the origin of Nagas to Yunnam Province of China like some of the writers from Malaysia tracing back their origin to Yunnam Province of China.

Some Naga scholars also believe that some of the Naga groups went further to the southern seas of Myanmar, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia. The Nagas and some of the indigenous groups of Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia may be the same tribe/group originated from China but due to influence from other people and differences in environments made them variation in their culture and customs. If they are not influenced from other people and bring changed due to environment - it may still retain their ancient culture and customs, which will be easier to study about their similarities.

There are some similarities in customs and traditions; they also traced back their origin to Yunnam Province of China. But the study of DNA and analysis of Nagas with those tribes in Archipelago can give us scientific proof and conclude that they are from the same descendants.

There is great possibility that in deep comparative study of origin of Nagas and some indigenous people in Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan in the future may conclude that they are from the same origin and same ancestor in examination of archaeology and DNA.

References

1. (Geocities Site)
References used: i. Philippines ethnic Motifs vol.3 as part of the Okir projected by the product Devt. And design center of the Philippine and Philippine national museum.
ii. Unreached Peoples' 81 –David C. Cook Publishing Co. iii. Cordilla Philippines iv. Bibak NE homepage) Page-1

2. Website: lard.net (copyright 1996, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc) Website visited on 12-02-03

3. Elwin Verrier 1961, Nagaland, Shillong: Published by P.Dutta for the research Dept. Adviser's Secretariat Page –12

4. (Geocities site) website
Visited on 20-2-2003 5. Ibid

6. Shimray R.R.1985 Origin and Culture of Nagas, New Delhi, Somsok Publications, Page-113

7. (Geocities site)
Website visited on 20-2-2003

8. Ibid

9. (allmalaysia.info) All the figures are from Year Book of Statistics, Sarawak 2001, Dept. of Statistics Malaysia, visited on 10-3-03

10. (sarawaktourism.com) website visited on 21-2-2003

11. Peter Kunstadkar, p-339

12. Shimray R.R.1985 Origin and Culture of Nagas, New Delhi, Somsok Publications, Page-72

13. (sarawaktourism.com) website visited on 21-2-2003

14. Ibid

15. (asiatravelling.net)
Website visited on 21- 2-03

16. Ibid

17. (sunsite.ui.ac.id) visited on 20-9-03

18. Ibid

19. Ibid

20. (atayal.org) visited on 04-02-04

21. Elwin Verrier 1961, Nagaland, Shillong: Published by P.Dutta for the research Dept. Adviser's Secretariat Page –8

22. (atayal.org) visited on 04-02-04

23. (atayal.org) visited on 04-02-04

24. (allmalaysia.info) visited on 10-3-03

25. (allmalaysia.info) visited on 10-3-03




* R.B. Thohe Pou, a Ph.D. Research Scholar, contributes regularly to e-pao.net
He can be contacted at thohepou@rediffmail.com
This article was webcasted on 29th June 2006.


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