All You Need To Know About The Naga Tribes – Part 2
As you’ll quickly discover when you visit Nagaland, the state is home to 16 tribes, and most of the two million inhabitants are members of one or the other of them. To an outsider, telling the difference between the different tribes can be tough, so our resident blogger Rupert Winchester put together a very short guide to the 16.
Read on to know about the remaining Nagaland Tribes in the Part 2 of the article.
The Konyak, who are one of the largest tribes in Nagaland, numbering over 300,000, are recognisable among other Naga by their tattoos, which often cover their face and hands; facial tattoos were originally earned for taking an enemy’s head. Known as the original head-hunters of the region, the Konyak were known as war loving people and often attacked nearby villages of other tribes taking the heads of opposing warriors as trophies to hang in the Morung, or communal house. The number of heads indicated the power of a warrior and the tribe and became a collective totem. Outside this, the Konyak maintain a very disciplined community life with strict duties and responsibilities for every individual.
The Kukis are spread out across most of the Seven Sister states of northeast India, as well as in Chin state in Myanmar. Long ignored by the outside world, an important landmark in the history of the Kuki people was the arrival of missionaries in the 1890s and the spread of Christianity. During the Second World War, the Kuki saw an opportunity to regain independence from the detested British, and fought alongside the Japanese and the controversial Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose to try and invade India and overthrow the British.
The Lotha number more than half-a-million, so are one of the very largest Naga tribes. Lothas are renowned for their colourful dances and folk songs. The male members wear shawls indicating their social status. Like many Nagas, the Lothas practiced headhunting in the past, but they gave this up after the arrival of Christianity. They are famous for the richness of their harvest festivals.
The Phom are a small Naga tribe, numbering some 13,000, whose traditional territory lies between the territories of the Konyak in the northeast, the Ao in the west and the Chang in the south. Agriculture is the traditional occupation of the Phoms, and the tribe also have a tradition of pottery, bamboo work and spinning fabric. The origin of the Phoms, like that of other Naga tribes, is uncertain. One oral tradition says that their ancestors originated from stones. They used to expose the bodies of their dead on raised platforms instead of burying them.
The Pochury are mainly found in the eastern part of the Phek District, around Meluri, 160 kilometres from the state capital, Kohima.
The Pochury identity is of relatively recent origin. It is a composite tribe formed by three Naga communities: Kupo, Kuchu and Khuri.
According to legend, these three communities fought battles against each other, but united into a single tribe after their elders negotiated peace. The British classified the three Pochury communities as sub-tribes of other Naga tribes, describing them as “Eastern Sangtam” or “Eastern Rengma.” After Independence, the Pochurys campaigned to be recognized as a separate tribe: this finally happened in 1991. In 1965, the Pochury territory was linked by road to the large towns like Kohima and Dimapur. Electricity reached Meluri in 1975.
According to the 2011 census, there are 56,000 Rengma. Like other Naga tribes, there are few written historical records of the Rengma. According to the local tradition, the Rengmas and the Lothas were once part of a single tribe. Apparently the Rengma used to use slaves, but by the time the British arrived, slavery was a declining practice, and no Rengma appears to have involved in slavery since then.
The Rengmas claim that they are native or aborigines of the Yunnan region of China in ancient times. The Rengmas have come under pressure from militant factions, a hidden policy adopted by people against tribes’ interests and unity, and have retaliated by forming their own counter-militancy groupings, leading to ethnic killings and polarization.
The Sangtam, like many other tribal groups in Northeast India practice jhum, or shifting cultivation. Unlike other Naga tribes in Nagaland, many of the Sangtam have retained their traditional beliefs, in spite of embracing Christianity at the same time. Sangtams celebrate twelve different festivals, in particular Mongmong, all of which are affiliated with their traditional culture and religion. The Sangtam wear a shawl on a black base that has four grey bands at the top and another four bands of the same colour at the bottom.
The Sumi Naga mainly inhabit the Zunheboto and Dimapur districts, although many have spread and are now living across Nagaland.
The Sumi were head hunters, like most Naga tribes. As with other western Naga tribes, the principal offensive weapons of the Sema are the spear and the machete; the cross-bow, originally perhaps borrowed from tribes further east, is also used.
Yimchunger are one of the major Naga tribes. The word Yimchunger means “the ones who have reached their place of choice.” The Yimchungers are believed to have migrated to present-day Nagaland from upper Burma in one wave. Strong ties to cultural identity in the form of their love and passion for agriculture are reflected in the hymns and beats of songs devoted to the craft. The musical instruments of the Yimchungers include simple log drums, trumpets and flutes, similar to that of the Angami. The traditional dress of the Yimchungers includes colourful cane headgear decorated with hair and bird feathers.
The Yimchunger are one of the main contributors to the Hornbill Festival. Highlights of the festival include tribal dances across the many groups of the Naga region, so-called ‘spin top’ demonstrations by the Yimchunger, and folk songs. The Yimchunger shawl is in red and black with narrow grey bands at the two edges and is mainly worn by warriors of great renown.
The Zeme Naga, like many other Nagas, are traditionally self-sufficient at their village level. Their organizational unity is based upon the village, which is socially, economically and politically self-sufficient. Dancing and playing musical instruments are a major part of culture in the Zeme Naga. The boys and girls are housed in separate youth dormitories but come and congregate in the central part of village to perform for the elders.
The Zeme Nagas are animist and they believe in the existence of one supreme God and eight other gods who are associated with health, water and so on. They also believe in witchcraft and black magic. Though a small section of the Zeme have been converted to Christianity, the larger section still honour their traditional festivals connected with agricultural activities and other social institutions. They celebrate six important festivals during the year.
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