Right on the edge of India and Myanmar lies Nagaland, often refered to as the wild west of India where until recently 16 odd headhunting tribes valiantly fought off any intruders.
Long feared for their ferocity in war and fierce independence , Naga tribes considered head hunting a sign of strength and machismo. Every inter-village war saw the victors loping of the heads of the vanquished , bringing social status for the warrior and fertility for the land.
Among certain tribes such as the Konyaks of Mon, men who had claimed heads are adorned with face tattoos and V-shaped marks on their torsos, as well as brass pendants depicting the number of heads taken.
A warrior bringing his first head back from battle was rewarded with a facial tattoo.
For a full day, from sunrise to sunset, the tattoo would be inscribed into the skin via thorn and bamboo. The recipient was forbidden to make any sounds during tattooing
For men tattooing was a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood, just as going to war was a part of growing up.
For women tattooing reflected the cycle of life, where crucial life events such as coming of age, marriage or childbirth resulted in tattooing. Some patterns on woman were also to pay homage to a successful head taking by her father, brother or male relative.
Just as her mother and older sisters before her, it was mandatory to get tattoos. The belief was that if they refused then upon death they would be prevented from entering the land of the dead, where souls resided.
The last occurrence of head hunting was in 1963 and this practice is now outlawed. However it was not so much for the government ban that the Nagas gave up this practice, but for the Christian missionaries operating here.
Almost 90% of Nagas now consider themselves Christian, with churches now the prominent landmarks in of most villages . As a result , this unique traditional practice is vanishing and only a few of the last old men and woman remain alive as a testimony to this culture of body art.
Thanks to the efforts of Konyak & Bos this dying culture will be recorded in a book called ‘The Tattoo Headhunters’ expected to be published in 2017
Nagalanders often refer to their state as the naughty state where their Christian beliefs are overlooked (as is any meaningful infrastructure) by Hindu Delhi.
Once a year tribes gather in the capital of Nagaland, Kohima.