From Longwa With Love: Meet the Last Surviving Headhunters of Nagaland
LONGWA: Longwa, a small village situated on the middle Indo-Myanmar Border, 42km form Mon district headquarters of Nagaland district. Its about 1400m in altitude. This is the land of the Head Hunters.
Konyak tribes are dominant in Longwa. Villagers here can still move freely to Myanmar without restrictions. It is designated a disturbed international border area in the state of Nagaland.
Drugs and arms are smuggled through this channel regularly, with a narrow hilly bike route being the drug supply route from Myanmar to India. There is no employment, or livelihood options, leaving the villager with no choice but to deal in drugs, and of course cultivate opium.
Konyaks are better known as head hunters, this being a tradition. Till 1970 there were cases of head hunting, not uncommon at all in the region. Subsequently a case was reported only in 1995 ( local community sources claimed that this was actually the result of a clash between two factions).
For the warriors, the taking of a head was a great honour and the number of heads taken indicated the power of a warrior. Now 10-13 head hunters are alive. After the 1970s head hunting stopped. Christianity brought peace to Longwa. And head hunting is now history, with the new generation of Konyak’s looking for acceptable livelihood and development opportunities.
About 60 families live in Longwa village, that remains even in this 21st century, totally disconnected from the rest of the country
Photographer Tanmoy Bhaduri was one of the very few outsiders to travel to Longwa village, Mon district of Nagaland. to record the last of the headhunters in pictures.. Konyaks mainly communicate in Nagamease language but in the villages mostly use their own dialect, so the information shared here is translated by the local who assisted him Longshah Wagnow.
The photographs below trace the fascinating story of the headhunters:
A view of Longwa village.
Entrance of Longwa village. I found a Indian border security force camp from 32Km from this point and from this point to the Nagaland security outpost is just 5Km.
Longwa is a hilly rainforest. It still has most of its houses made with traditional thatch and bamboo.
A few on the Nagaland side have this kind of sheet roofing. No Government developmental assistance to the households in the Myanmar side is allowed and though citizens of the same village, they are not included in the electoral roll either.
This is the house of “Angh”(King of the village). Angh is the hereditary chief or the king of the Konyak tribe. The international border cut Angh’s house vertically, the right half is in Mon district of Nagaland and the left half in Sagaing Division of Myanmar. The border ran through the middle of the house from front to back. Longshah Waghnow said, “Here we have a village council, but we can not elect our village chief according to the rule of Konyaks Chief is selected by blood. It is hereditary. ”
Tonyei Phawang is current chief Angh of Longwa. The interesting feature of Longwa village is that – the Angh of the village rules over more than 45 villages extended up to Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh. According to Tonyei, “I rule 33 villages in Myanmar side, 5 in Nagaland and 7 in Arunachal Pradesh and villagers still paying taxes to the Chief of Longwa.”
This is the bike route through the hills connecting Myanmar. It is not permissible to enter this area unless you are a villager of Longwa. Opium, ganja and other drugs are smuggled through this channel regularly.
Langkhu village belongs to Myanmar but is ruled by the King of Longwa.
154 Boundary Pillar in Indo-Myanmar border 1970-71. This is the only official border mark I can found otherwise nobody can understand which part is Myanmar and which is India.
Konyak women traditionally have a very distinctive look, Yunmun Konyak (56) wearing colourful tribal beaded jewellery.
The most intriguing part of the head hunter’s appearance are the facial and hand tattoos that were earned for taking an enemy’s head.
Manyaum Konyak (81), is a living head hunter who participated in many hunting, proud of his face tattoo because those who cut the heads of enemy they only got face tattoo. He wears a necklace with four brass skull it denotes he killed four enemies.
An old head hunter goes to forest for woods for cooking. They still hunt wild boars and hornbill birds. Government aware them many times to stop hunting wild animals but according to Konyak tribe hunting is their tradition and identity so they can’t leave it.
Chopa Konyak (85) is the oldest head hunter in Longwa. He hunted four heads in his life and participated in many expeditions. He introduces himsekf as a leader of head hunters.
Chopa says, “Our generation was great, we fight for a reason but now you people kill innocent people without any reason. Head hunting is not just a game, there are some reasons behind this. We fight with other tribes, neighbour villages for our land and also for a queen. Our King always get married with girls from other villages. We fight when another King expressed his love for the same Queen.” The rule is who surrendered or defeated they will pay tax to the King of village. Longwa is one of the biggest village and it had more head hunters. They are still paying tax to the King of Longwa.
Inangnan Konyak (82) is an old Head hunter.
Wanchah (81) is the only head hunter who lives in Longwa who has no chest tattoo, he has only a face tattoo because he killed the enemy on his first expedition and is very proud of this achievement.
As the sun sets villagers return to their homes from the forest and are seen here sitting beside the fire pit, puffing opium in the evening.
Now people cannot find blood or bones and skulls in anyone’s house. All are buried under soil. “They say we killed people that was our tradition but now we are Christian we love people”. According to Longshaw Waghnow, a new generation resident of Longwa, “Until the 1960 we had very little contact with the outside world, even with the rest of India, before Christianity came here, nobody could visit us. Everybody was afraid of us due to our tradition. Now we want development for us for our next generations.”
(Cover Photo: Nahnyei Konyak (74) has a tattoo on his chest not on the face because according to “Morung” (School of Headhunters) those who participated in head hunting got tattoos on their chests. Only those who were able to cut off the enemy’s head qualified for a face tattoo. , “I missed an opportunity to get enemy’s head once, if I get another chance now I will succeed. I miss those days.” says Nahnyei.)