Bulletin Board
What's Myanmar Explore
What's New

Singing of Naga people
Most of Naga people live in India, such as Naga Land of northwest India, states of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. On Myanmar side of the border live much smaller population of some 100,000 Naga-s. They spread around western Sagaing Division, from Patkoi range in north to Thaungdyat in south, from Indian border in west to River Chindwin in east.
Anthropology and history of Naga people are not very clear and still various studies are being made on them. Their physical features show those of Mongoloid, Tibeto-Burman group. Most studies and books on Naga are written in English but sometimes their contents vary from one to another, confusing readers. For example, one of Naga tribe mentioned in one book never appear on another, or sub-groups are divided differently depending on different books.

One British writer says Naga is related to Kachin, not Chins, while another points out that Kuki-Chin tribe has the closest relationship with Naga among the surrounding tribes. I once had a chance to see the Indian Naga's from Assam. They were performing dances along drum beats in Yangon, yet those people did not look like Nagas in Myanmar. They looked more like Chins in Myanmar to me. My impression is that maybe co-called Nagas in India and Myanmar may not belong to the same tribe.

Naga burn their field and grow rice, millet, corns, taro potato and so on. Some fields are terrace-styled for growing rice and taros.
Important society units are ancestors, family names and ages. Naga used to build fortress around the village but today, there found no such village at least on Myanmar Naga side. On the western bank of River Chindwin are several Naga villages where most of residents are already Burma-nized to work for central government or portage service. Some villagers are educated in India. People bring agalloch, eaglewood to Indian side for trade almost freely and there seems little restrictions for border-crossing. But one Naga youngster met at the new year's festival told me that they do not visit India as often as before.
Village of Animism
Head-hunting custom is basically gone following the central government rules. But if you are interested to know further details and current situation, please visit our office in Yangon. I would love to talk what I have experienced. Reasons for head-hunting are mainly 3 according to the anthropologists and research books.

1) Retaliation
When one of the family members or age-group fellow got disgraced, it is regarded as a fair motivation for the whole group members to go for hunt. For example, if a girl became pregnant after joining the bachelor party (all night gathering at the festival for single boys and girls looking for a partner) and name a boy as her baby's father, he cannot deny, or he will become a target of head-hunt by girl's tribe and family. The only other options; either admit "yes it is me" or give her enough presents for compensation.

2) Dedication for God
Same reason as another Myanmar head-hunting tribe Wa has. Naga used to hung heads, arms and legs as a token of gift to the God and wish for therich harvest. In the book "RACES OF BURMA" originally written in 1933 and re-printed in 1997, following stories are shown;

Naga people spread the blood of hunted men around the rice field. Young child was preferred and bought for such sacrifice. Mr. Grant Brown also described in his book "BURMA RESERCH SOCIETY'S JOURNAL" June, 1911 issue that arms and legs were cut apart in the most horrifying way because they believed longer and deeper the pain and horror was, greater the God' return would be.

Naga people live in the between Hukawang valley and Assam, India had a custom of sacrificing boy or girl slaves for the better autumn harvest.

Victims were kidnapped from the foot of the mountain and killed in variety of ways, some by a spear or cut by the neck. Victims were usually given some medicine. Separated parts of bodies were shown to the public in the village. There is no evidence of man-eating habit.

3) Personal Glory
If successfully hunt a head of rival village warrior, he would be regarded as a real macho.

But sometimes head-hunting occurred for very unreasonable purpose. I heard a story from a grandson of a village chief. 50 years ago, in the village of Layshi, people were fighting against the Indian border village 10km far. One day at lunch time, Naga village chief in Layshi were not feeling good and ate only little. One of his warriors asked what was wrong. Chief said "I feel bad because you my warriors haven't succeeded to hunt our enemy's heads". So the warrior rushed to the border village and hunted 4 heads, regardless whether female or children and served them at dinner, which pleased the chief very much that he ate a lot this time.

Men are almost naked except a small piece of loincloth. Men's tatoos indicate his villages and tribes. Women do not cover their breasts either but wear tattoos since when they are little girls in villages of animism. At some of Naga villages under strong influences of Christianity or Burman culture, tatoos are disappearing. Picture of a Naga boy with tatoos whom I met at this year's New Year Festival is available at this web site.
In Myanmar territory's Primitive Naga village, Naga men wear the loincloth while the upper part of Naga ladies are almost naked. Some animist village, they keep on tattooing even the small children. By seeing tattoo on their bodies, you can guess which tribe they are from and which village they belong to. Some Nagas villages are being burmanised and christinised . Although there is no more tattoo custom in these days, you still have a chance to see tattooed people at Ponyo village. We also took photos of tattooed people during the New Year Celebration in 2001. So you can experience the tattoo by seeing photos on this site.
Naga Female with tattoo
At the village of animism
Black carpet woven with black fur of dogs with red rectangular-shapes embroideries used to be the typical design. Today Naga people use wool instead of dog fur. Shells used in the textiles with different pattern show the person's social status, experience of head-hunting and wealth. Yet now the textile with head-hunting glory pattern are inherited to the younger generations who has never hunted and its meaning are becoming history.
Even now people hunt tigers and elephants in the mountains with spears and bows. I met a Naga man at new year's festival in 2001 who said he had hunted a tiger 2 years ago.
Naga people enjoys various songs for different ocacsions; new years songs, war songs, funeral songs, field songs and others. At this year's new year festival, father and uncles of my Naga friend even sang me a song made from the experience of hunting a Japanese military man during the war, after telling me this story surrounding the fire. New year song is more like a shout, it is very impressive.
Naga's biggest festival is new year festival of January 15th, called Kaing Bi and organized by Naga festival committee who choose each year's festival location and details under the control of central government. All Naga tribes send a few delegations to this occasion, thus it is the perfect opportunity to see variety of different Naga people at once.

This year 6 Naga tribes and Kuki-Chin tribe sent delegations and total of more than 500people participated. At the same festival one year before, midnight of new year's eve, Naga chief made a pray pouring Naga wine at the festival site. When the pray was over, youngsters killed cattle, pigs and chickens with big knives, which were carried away by females and cooked to be served as Naga dishes at the festival. When festival starts, white and red Naga wine made of rice are served in bamboo glasses. Before and after this grand festival, various villages of Naga held their own small gatherings with children and others.

One Naga wears a decoration made with hair of hunted head, mostly dark but fair hair were also spotted. They also held a kind of ritual at the seeding season in the field but people simply gather at their garden with family members only.

There are some writings about seeding and harvest festivals by Naga people in Indian side but so far, I have not recognized any such occasions on Myanmar side. When animism was believed by all villagers, there were many festivals almost monthly but most villages open to the foreigners today are no longer into animism, abandoning their traditional festivals.

On Indian borders, western side of Mt.Saramati and Hukawing valley there said to remain several animism villages.

After the new year festival, single boys and girls gather for a night and enjoy themselves, but only Naga people are allowed into the party. There are a few Bachelor House, called MORUNG, per village and just like Japanese youngsters in the past, they go out there and live together, which has separate rooms for different couples, according to the Myanmar Encyclopedia 's 1971 issue. Other reports say inside the bachelor house there are no separate rooms and couples go outside to enjoy themselves. It is quite different from Indian Naga's MORUNG.

Today, even the villages of no animism belief has a gathering at MORUNG at the new year festival.

Before closing this page, please note that above information collected from various sources may contain some wrong facts on Naga people although I did my very best to show who they are. I will continue to learn more about Naga people and give you the most up-dated information. Meanwhile it would be highly appreciated if you would kindly give me your opinion, advice or criticism on this site.