Naga Tribe

The word Naga has evolved from the word Nagna, which means naked. It is so because the Nagas are known by the paucity of their clothes. Some also say that the word Naga originated from Naga meaning Snake or king of snakes. Mythlogically, princess Ulupi was a Naga Kanya, that is daughter of the king of snakes. Ulupi`s residence is generally identified in the southwest of Nagaland. Since this area was under the Naga raj, the people are known as Naga.

History of Naga tribe:
Originally, the Nagas were not known by the names of the tribes as they are known now, but by the name of a group of villages. The Naga tribes were linked with the tribes in Assam and Myanmar. After the 1816 invasion the area along with Assam came under the rule of Myanmar. But then from 1826 onwards the British East India Company started to rule over India and by 1892 all of modern Nagaland except Tuensang came under the direct rule of the Bristish. The Christian missionaries played an important part in transforming Nagaland. Many Naga tribes embraced Christianity, in particular the Baptist faith. 

The Nagas belong to the Indo-Mongoloid family. The fourteen major Naga tribes are the Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khemungan, Konyak, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sema, Yimchunger and Zeliang. The Chakhesangs were earlier known as Eastern Angamis and are a combination of the Chakri, Khezha and Sangtam sub-tribes. Each tribe has its own specific language and culture. There is no caste system among the Nagas or anyone of the non-Naga tribes. But each of the Naga tribes is divided into several or as many as twenty clans. Clans are mainly based on forefathers or such other things by which one group of people is differentiated from others. The bigger the tribe, the more is the number of clans. The Naga`s have different stories about their origin. The Angamis, Semas, Rengams and the Lotha`s subscribe to the Kheza-Kenoma legend. It is said that the village had a large stone slab having magical properties. Paddy spread on it to be dried doubled in quantity by evening. The three sons of the couple who owned the stone used it by rotation. One day there was a quarrel between the sons as to whose turn it was. The couple, fearing bloodshed, set fire to the stone, which as a result cracked. It is believed that the spirit in the stone went to heaven and the stone lost its miraculous properties. The three sons thereafter left Kheza-Kenoma, went in different directions and became the forefathers of the Angami, Sema and the Lotha tribes. According to another legend, to which the western Angamis subscribe, the first man evolved from a lake called Themiakelku zie near Khonoma. The Rengmas believe that until recently they and Lothas formed one tribe. The Aos and the Phoms trace their origin to the Lungterok (six stones) on the Chongliemdi hill.

The Nagas are hardworking, sturdy, with a high standard of integrity and a strong sense of self respect. The Angamis are politically the most conscious group. The Zeliang and Pochury tribes in Kohima district are comparatively simple and unsophisticated. The Tuensang tribes are un-spoilt children of nature. A striking characteristic of the Naga tribes is their hospitality and cheerfulness. To be greeted with a smiling face while traveling on the roads is a common experience.

Except the Tenyidie language, which is almost a common language for the Nagas, they speak 60 different dialects belonging to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages. Small segments of the population converse in Assamese, while English, the official state language is widely spoken.

Art and Craft of Naga Tribe:
Nagas start life ” in a cradle of bamboo and ends in a coffin of bamboo”.

The Nagas are expert basket makers. Basketry among the Nagas is highly developed. However, the craft is restricted to men. All Naga men know how to weave mats of split bamboo, which is the chief material besides wood for constructing walls and floors of houses. Very important is the production of finely woven mats for drying paddy. They also prepare different kinds of armchairs, sofas, tables and cradles for babies. Apart from baskets, the Nagas make mats, shields and different kinds of hats from bamboo. They make attractive chungas or drinking cups; mugs made of bamboo with pokerwork. They are sometimes designed with painted stylized floral patterns or with human figures done in relief, greatly enhancing the shape and the texture of the articles.

Music and Bamboo:

The Naga flute is one of the simplest instruments made of thin bamboo. It produces beautiful sound with different tunes. Only a special quality of bamboo `ani` can be used to make such bamboo flute.

Cane is utilized for craftwork. All tribes make picturesque cane crafts comprising bowls mugs and containers with multi-colored engravings on them. Other varieties such as fillets as part of ornamentation have elaborately worked out design. Cane helmets and hat frames are many. Among the Nagas, a cane-rain proof hat is also made. Men of some tribes weave very attractive neckbands, armlets and leggings from fine strips of cane dyed red and stems of the yellow orchid in combination with cowries. Mats woven of cane strings with fine texture have decorative value.

Naga Costumes:
The Nagas are versatile artisans. The type of body cloth worn by men and women differs from one Naga group to another. The design and color, which varies not only between the tribes but also sometimes between clans of the same tribe and between different villages, records the wearer`s position in society.

Spinning, dyeing and weaving is performed by women and every Naga woman is supposed to weave the cloths of her family. Only the Lothas, Aos and Rengmas practice paintings on a few clothes. The Ao art of painting resembles that of the Rengmas although the conventional pattern is different. Aos paint the white band of their famous warrior shawl, which can be worn only by one who had taken heads in war or who has performed feasts of merit. The figure of elephant, tiger, cock, dao spear and human heads are painted with black on the white median band. The color is prepared from the sap of a tree, which is mixed with very strong rice beer and the ash of its own leaves. Sometimes, the ash of bamboo leaves is used in place of Tangko leaves.

The Naga designs vary from a formal arrangement of lines to elaborate patterns of diamonds and lozenge shape. Simple straight lines, stripes, squares and bands, varying in width, color and arrangement are the most traditional design and motifs.

The Naga shawls are very famous. They come in bright colors and various patterns. The decorative warrior shawl Tsungkotepsu is one of the most characteristic cloths of the Aos. Rongsu shawl is one of the most decorative Ao cloth and the most difficult to earn the right to wearing it, for it can be worn only by a man whose grandfather and father have both done the mithun sacrifice feast and who has done it himself. The other shawls consist of Tiongkong su, Tabensa su, Lungkhum subang, Keyi su, and Bangmerem su.

The Ao women`s skirt, Azu jangnup su mostly of red and black stripes with little yellow in the black stripes. Ngami su or fish tail skirt. Yongzujangau or cucumber seed skirt is woven in red on a black background.

There are several varieties of cloths worn by the Angamis, the predominant pattern with white with red and black bands called Loramhoushu and black with red and yellow bands called lohe. The Angamis have only one cloth distinctive of social status namely phichu-pfe worn by the priest. Another kind of cheap shawl used by men and women for rough wear is a black shawl called ratapfe. The ordinary dress of Angami women consists of a petticoat called neikhro, a sleeve less bodice called vatchi, a white skirt called pfemhou.

The Yimchunger Nagas have a great variety of shawls. One of the most attractive shawls is called the rongkhim, which can be worn only by a warrior of great renown. The red colour in the shawl symbolizes the blood of the enemy. If any other man, who is not a warrior, wears this cloth he is believed to die of leprosy. Kechinger Ronfkhim is also a warrior shawl, but in order of merit, it denotes second-rate honor.

Among Rengma Naga Alungtsu is a cloth for well-to-do men. It is worn by men who have not yet offered a great feast of merit marked by setting up of monoliths. Teri Phiketsu is another Rengma shawl for which the performance of head hunting ceremony is essential. Ordinary shawl of the Lotha is known as Sutam, a white cloth with broad dark blue horizontal stripes, which is worn by boys and men who have performed no social gennas.

For ceremonial attire Rongmei women have introduced intricate designs of many variations of line and colors, particularly for their skirts, belts and men`s sashes used for dancing in which they excel among other Naga tribes. The most popular dancing skirt is black with a wide, elaborately embroidered red border and three white median bands with a thin red line in the center.

Naga tribal women have their own unique method of making pottery with hands. Usually the techniques vary according to the tribes and the geographical areas they inhabit. The most peculiar feature of Naga pottery is that the designs and motifs have been inspired by the designs of the textiles.


Traditionally both sexes enjoy wearing colorful ornaments. Naga warriors wear miniature trophy masks as a pendant in a necklace. They are symbolic of their bravery as headhunters. Broken tumblers of thick glass were turned into ear ornaments and colourful glass rade beads were strung on cords of local fibres fastened by coins. The different coloured beads in indigo, orange and purple blend well with other ornamenent and gives it a typically Indian flavour.

Naga bracelets and bangles are exquisite. Sawed from the wide end of tusk, then shaped and stained to bring out the superb grain of the ivory and rubbed for lifetimes against wearers skin until the inner edges took on a jewel like transparency. Shells are inseperable part of Naga culture and they have used them to make different ornaments.

Head Hunting

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.

Tribes In India




About Rashid Faridi

I am Rashid Aziz Faridi ,Writer, Teacher and a Voracious Reader.
This entry was posted in culture, India, Tribes and Communites. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Naga Tribe

  1. louis fernandez says:

    good site!! trying to find out about work of art ,done by one of the naga people carved in hardwood headhunter warrior and a priest father van pey, can you help ?


  2. Rashid Faridi says:

    dear Fernandez
    thanks for visiting.
    i will search and post


  3. ghani says:

    I need details of the following tribes


  4. IJ says:

    The word ‘naga’ did not evolve from the Hindi word ‘nanga’ – that is a false notion that most people have. The word ‘naga’ actually derived from a Burmese word for ‘big lobbed ear’, because the naga people were known for their huge ear piercings. For neighbouring tribes surrounding the naga’s this was a distinct feature of the tribe.


  5. Pingback: Clan, Gotra and Tribe | Rashid's Blog

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