The Headhunters of Longwa: A Photoessay by Shweta Rane
The north-eastern state of Nagaland is remote, lush and mountainous. Bordering India’s eastern neighbour, Myanmar, Nagaland is home to 16 indigenous tribes, each with their own cultural practices and traditional way of life.
Mumbai-based photographer, Shweta Rane, armed with her Canon 6D camera, documents her experience meeting with the Konyak Tribe, of the Longwa Village.
Longwa is one of the biggest villages in the Mon District of Nagaland on the India-Myanmar Border. The villagers belong to the Konyak Tribe and posess dual citizenship.
The Indo-Myanmar border passes from this village dividing the chief Angh’s house into two halves, one of which is in India and the other half is in Myanmar.
Angh, the chief has 60 wives and rules more than 70 villages which extend up to Myanmar and Arunachal Pradesh. His house is a demonstration of tribal power and glory, flashing various animal skulls on the porch.
In the past, Konyak’s were infamous for marauding nearby villages of other tribes, often resulting in killings and decapitations of the heads of opposing warriors. The Konyak’s belief was that the skull of a person holds within it the soul force of their being. This soul force is strongly affiliated with prosperity and fertility and is used for the benefit of the village, personal life, and crops.
Eventually, the British Raj reached Nagaland, and with it Christian Missionaries who converted 95% of Nagas to Christianity and signalled the start of big changes in the lives of the people. The Konyaks were the last among the Naga tribes to accept Christianity, following which the tradition of headhunting came to an end in 1960.
While modernisation has indeed made its way to the village, remnants of the regions cultural heritage can be found at every turn. The tattoo patterns and placements that are evident even today once depicted ones social status, or cycle of life for the Konyak’s.
Face tattoos were reserved for Warriors specifically those returning from wars with enemy heads. The queen of the village would make the tattoos on the warrior’s bodies.
Panache, a man of 82 years of age, was one such warrior who brought enemy heads from wars as a symbol of victory. A living piece of history and culture, Pache belongs to the last generation of head hunters. He explained that back then, headhunting was a natural part of their daily lives, with wars fought for power over resources like land and food. When asked, Panache revealed a sense of happiness with Christianity coming and modernising their way of living.
With generations of societal and cultural changes between them, the headhunter’s family has values deeply rooted in their culture, with the essence of modernisation visible in their clothing and way of life.
A candid picture capturing the moment Panache’s family came together for a picture. Though they each belong to different generations and cultural practices, the happiness on their faces is timeless.