The headhunters belong to the ferocious Konyak Naga tribe in Lungwa village on the eastern edge of Nagaland.
In the village, you won’t be able to find a hospital, police station or even a panchayat office. There is only a man known as ‘chief’, who administers this village along with some other villages in Myanmar.
The Konyaks are famous for their valour and participation in headhunting in the early days (till the 196os). As a young man’s rite of passage to manhood, the person had to fight with enemies, kill them, bring back their heads and get decorated with tattoos on the face and chest. More the number of enemies killed, more intricate was the design of the facial and chest tattoos. These tattoos signified honour (just like a uniform does) and helped to demarcate a distinguished warrior from the common men.
The Konyak Nagas used to believe that if they didn’t get tattoos, they wouldn’t be able to get food in the afterlife. Therefore, in the days of old, wars, killing enemies and making tattoos were what kept the community happy.
They used the thorns of an orange or lemon tree to make the needles, which was then tied to a wooden pestle. The ink was made by mixing resin (from burning trees) and rice beer.
However, many things have changed, with the result that the traditional practices and cultures have nearly disappeared. In the past, they used to kill enemies. Now, these old warriors of Lungwa smoke opium. The heads of enemies on the walls of their homes have now been replaced with the skulls and bones of buffaloes, deer and hornbills.
In pictures, the headhunters of Lungwa:
Chopa says – “I was the leader in a few wars and whenever I went for war I killed at least two or three enemies. When I came back, people honoured and respected me. These are my best experiences and memories.”
Wanchah first participated in a war when he was 18. At the age of 25, he brought back heads of enemies from another war.
Inangnan is the only warrior who had cut the enemy’s head on the very first day. That is why he has tattoos on his face and not on his chest.
“People of Lungwa and in a small part of Myanmar do not have any problem crossing the border. The border may have been created by the government, but we are family and the people respect me,” Tonyei says. He takes care of more than 30 villages, out of which four are in Nagaland.