Nagaland is a mountainous state in north east India that borders Myanmar (Burma). Whilst the term ‘Naga’ is widely used to describe the people who come from Nagaland there are sixteen different recognised Naga communities.
The south of Nagaland is increasingly urbanised but the northern areas remain rural with villages located on hill tops above the plains. Nagaland is a predominantly agricultural state; rice is the main crop, but maize, millet and cotton are also grown. The importance of the spring and harvest is reflected in Naga festivals and spiritual beliefs related to the natural world.
In the 1830s, American missionaries travelled extensively in Nagaland converting people to Christianity. Today, approximately 90% of Naga people identify as Christians and most within the Baptist Church.
What is headhunting?
The Naga people have a strong warrior tradition and headhunting was a significant part of their culture for many years. Status and prestige were reflected in the number of human heads a Naga warrior had taken and represented in their jewellery, clothing and body art.
However, strict rules surrounded the practice of headhunting. For example, decapitation was taboo and heads would only be removed from the body after death. By taking the heads of their enemies Naga warriors could provide evidence of their victory but they also believed the potency of fertility resides in the human head. By removing the head, the warrior released that potency.
In 1960 the Indian Government banned the practice of headhunting but Naga jewellery, textiles and festivals continue to reflect this tradition.