Head-huntings : Nagas' perspective
- Part 2 -

Kendy Pamei*

"Valued as a practice of self evaluation and social elevation, the number of heads taken determining the prestige and status of being warrior" (I L Aier: Naga Social formations and ethnic identity). A Naga warrior, who successfully brings home enemy's head, is considered a prominent warrior and a hero, his prestige, fame and status in the society are elevated and respected by all and such status cannot be merely achieve without proving their worthiness.

A warrior in order to prove his bravery, chops off the head of the enemy and brings home the trophy from the enemies' land. Head hunting is also test of proving ones worth being man (manhood) or simply endorsement of transition from boyhood to adulthood, worthy enough to be called a warrior. "Success on a head-hunting raid would fairly serve as a mark of manhood and as qualify for promotion from one stage in tribal life to the higher stage of married man" (TC Hudson. 1911).

Writer like Maj. Butler pointed out that a young man could not find a woman to get married with, unless he brings home enemy's head, however, this fact was denied by many Nagas.

Another misconception about head-hunting is on the narrative of hunting woman's or baby's head. Outsiders critique that hunting women's and children's head is unethical, barbaric and immoral. However in the Nagas society, women and child are considered weakling and precious, hence the belief is that, a warrior who can transcend the enemy line of defense and get hold of what they considered most precious and dearly protected (women and children), such warriors are glorified as man of valor or the bravest one, such is the art and technique of war in any part of the world even today. Hit the enemy where it hurt most.

BB Kumar in his book Naga Identity wrote "The woman's head was prized most partly due to the decorative hairs and partly as it needed more valor and feat to get out of the protective cordon of the warriors of enemy camp", such assumption and explanation of woman's head for decorative hairs is not only misleading but lacks substance.

Head-hunting in the Nagas society is closely attached to social, religion and political beliefs and cannot be simply understood as, savage or that head-hunting is associated with the blood feud, where the duty of vengeance remains un-sated until the tally of heads is numerically equal etc.

One should understand that, Naga villages were tightly-knit, self-administered social units and the state of affairs was far from being anarchic or chaotic and it should be noted that head-hunting wasn't merely practiced to uphold one's honor and prestige in the society as the earlier writers often portrayed that, the hunters engage in head-hunting and slay each other for fanfare or to display their bravery.

On the account of Liangmai tribe TC Hudson wrote, "A raid in order to get a head is a religious business, and not lightly undertaken……… but they prepare themselves for the sport with solemn rites. Before as well as after, a raid the young warriors are genna, secluded from intercourse, or speech with women, compelled to live apart", he also wrote "it was usual to keep the gruesome trophy for five days, and then to return it to the village to which it belonged. Sometimes it was put in the grave of the family of the successful warrior……. Then for three years all raids on the particular village were forbidden".

Thus, it is clearly seen that head-hunting was never carried out at one's will rather, warriors before the raid were subjected to vigorous training and certain rules and taboos were followed strictly, such as abstaining from women, intercourse, and even forbid foods cooked by women.

It can also be seen that the victim's heads were often return after performing certain rituals and due respect was paid to the victim's village by maintaining mutual relationship without any feuds, such valuable aspect of head-hunting were totally ignore or not underlined, only the dark side or personal perception of the authors are often highlighted and stressed upon, thus antagonizing the Nagas culture and tradition by denouncing its values and disparaging the society with derogatory names like "head-hunting tribe", "head-hunters' or 'head-seekers."

History shows that during the warring era, it was observed that gruesome form of murder such as;
Death by a Thousand Cuts (Originally from China, this was one of the most brutal execution methods ever fashioned. It was in used roughly from the year 900, until it was banned in 1905),
Crucifixion (Ancient form of execution, widespread during the reign of Alexander the Great),
Flaying (In the year 415, Hypatia of Alexandria, famous female mathematician and philosopher, was allegedly flayed alive by a enraged Christian mob, using sharp oyster shells),
Brazen Bull (The brazen bull, sometimes called Sicilian bull, was a execution device designed by Perilaus of Athens in year 560 BC),
The Boats (Cruel method of execution originates from the ancient Persia) and many more,
were extensively adopted in different part of the world, however, none of the writers or historian wrote/associate such gruesome form of murders with any particular tribe as they depict the Nagas.

The misconception of the Nagas as the most brutal or fear-some people and the misinterpretation of Naga cultures traditions and value systems is poignant. The misnomer is not only misleading but diminishes the rich cultures of the Nagas, such trends and colonial notion of portraying the other as uncivilized and uncultured needs to be deconstructed.

There is weighty need to look into Naga's perspectives, and present a holistic view of who Nagas are and the significance of rites, rituals and practices of the Nagas. It is worthy to note that Nagas' practice of head-hunting had no direct relation to intentional revenge and the spirit world as viewed by the outside world, the fact that Nagas are well known for their hospitality, friendliness, humorous nature etc have found no place in the westerners writings was a clear indication to demean the tribal culture and way of life.


* Kendy Pamei (freelance writer) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 10, 2017.

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