15 Fascinating Facts About Naga Tribes
The incredible lives and legends of Nagaland’s tribes could fill several coffee table books and numerous terrabytes of data. But if you are planning a trip to this exotic land (and you must!), here are some basic Naga tribal facts you should know:
1. The word ‘Naga’ is said to have originated from the Burmese word ‘Naka,’ meaning people with earrings. This is, in fact, an umbrella term used for Indo-Mongoloid people living in this region. Many Naga people have spilled over into neighbouring Burma, Assam and manipur, too.
2. This land of dense forests, terraced fields and dazzling waterfalls houses more than 100 tribes, of which 16 are officially recognised. Each tribe has its sub-tribes.
3. Most major tribes in Nagaland are followers of Christianity. The Ao Nagas were among the earliest converts to the religion. However, many continue to follow “animism,” attributing a living soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena.
4. Don’t let the word “tribal” make you worry about language barriers. Most Nagas are literate, thanks to their Christian schooling, and English is widely spoken. Of course, each tribe has its local dialect and it is said that the Nagas have as many dialetcs as they have tribes!
5. Head taking was an Important feature of warfare among the Naga for many centuries, and weapons included spears, shields, and guns (acquired in large part after the coming of the British). Even today, some tribals wear heirloom skull necklaces that denote the number of heads their ancestors took in war.
6. Nagas are great believers in the power of dreams. Among some tribes, a dream can break a bond! If a girl’s match is fixed and she has an inauspicious dream within three days of the ceremony, the match is called off.
7. Here is another unique custom: If an Angami tribal wishes to marry a girl, he tells his father first who inquires if the girl is willing. If she is, the groom’s father strangles a fowl and watches the way the fowls’ legs cross. If the signs are inauspicious the matter stops there. If they are auspicious, the girl is informed and she can accept or refuse.
8. The Angamis and Konyaks, two of Nagaland’s leading tribes, wear rings of cane on their legs. These are not merely ornamental, but also help in climbing trees.
9. While most Naga tribes practise agriculture, they are highly skilled artisans too. You could watch them for hours as they work, deftly creating shawls, shoulder bags, decorative spears, table mats, wood carvings, and bamboo works.
10. The traditional ceremonial attire of each tribe is an awe inspiring sight: expect to see multi coloured spears, headgear made of finely woven bamboo interlaced with orchid stems, adorned with boar’s teeth and hornbill feathers and elephant tusk armlets.
11. Many Naga tribals wear colourful shawls. Often, the design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer. It is, in fact, the most important piece of clothing a Naga person wears.
12. Most Naga houses have four to five residents. Their social status is reflected in the roofs. The poor live in thatched roof houses. Those better off have houses topped with barge boards. The best houses have wooden shingles and house horns called kika.
13. Nagaland is also called “The Land of Festivals,” for its joie de vivre and year-long love of celebration. One of their major tribes called Rengma, observes Ngada, celebrated right after the November harvest. During this seven-day festival, families make rice beer, repair and clean the graves of their ancestors, polish their weapons and tools, sing, dance and forgive their enemies.
14. Every five years, Angami tribals hold a grand “stone pulling ceremony” in which a large slab of stone is quarried from the local hillside, placed on a sled of bound tree trunks, tied with vines and pulled several miles along country lanes to a parade ground. A round of feasting follows. The colour and energy of the ceremony is to be seen to be believed!
15. The best window into Naga tribal culture is the annual Hornbill Festival, held in the first week of December. Men and women from the state’s leading tribes gather here, decked up in their best finery. Not only that—they treat you to some jaw-dropping sports and rituals. The festival is named after the hornbill, a bird that holds great significance in Naga culture.
PS: Carry a high-quality camera with ample storage; this colourful land is a photographer’s delight! You will watch the tribals dance to drumbeat, climb up greased bamboo poles and engage in friendly contests.
The 16 recognised tribes of Nagaland are Angami, Rengma (Kohima), Konyak(Mon), Zeliang (Peren), Kuki(Peren), Ao(Mokukchung), Phom (Longleng), Khiamniungam, Yimchunger, Sangtam, Chang (Tuensang), Lotha (Wokha), Sumi (Zunheboto), Pochury, Chakhesang (Phek) and Kachari (Dimapur).
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