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The Different Tribes of Nagaland

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The North East is probably one of the most beautiful regions of India. While nature has made it beautiful, its deep seeded history and culture makes it intriguing too. Shrouded in mystery, there is much that is known and unknown about the gorgeous state of Nagaland. It’s many tribes and warriors leave the mind wondering. The state of Nagaland traces its history through its famous tribes. The tales of the 16 major Naga tribes were passed down through the generations, so, here are a few of the major tribes:

  • Konyaks

One of the relatively popular stories hailing from the state is of its warrior tribe – Konyak. The Konyaks are the last headhunting tribe of Nagaland and thus, one of the most widely known tribes.

Image Credits: https://www.thebetterindia.com/79317/some-true-unique-experience-nagaland-konyak/

Warfare over territorial disputes was common in the area. The Konyaks, however, were feared for their fierce headhunting skills. The warriors would bring back the heads of their defeated enemies and display them proudly on their walls and doorways. Headhunting was so deeply rooted in the tribe’s practice that specially designed baskets were carried during war to bring back the heads, to mark their victory and strength.

Headhunting was banned by the government in 1960 but the last of the warriors remain, distinguished by their face tattoos, animal horn piercings and well, their aura.

  • Angami

Angamis were one of the fiercest Naga tribes but as the inter-village feuds concluded, so, did their head-hunting. Around the same time Christianity was gaining ground and today 98% of the Angamis are Christian. They practice terraced wet-rice cultivation and majorly occupy the Kohima district.

Image Credits: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/3ARYXMNwsz27unaESW5bcP/Im-a-Naga-first-a-Naga-second-and-a-Naga-last.html

Annually, the state hosts the Sekrenyi Festival which is akin to this tribe. The ten days long harvest festival sees the men and women folk both dress in traditional attires bearing bold designs. The traditional dances are performed and the Angami even play the drums and flutes which are key in all their rituals and ceremonies, even in present day.

  • Chang

“Changgenyu” means “standing tall” or “towering above” in the tribe’s dialect. Thus, a massive peepal tree was given this name Changgyenu and it is believed that the Chang tribe originated from this tree.

The tribe is believed to have lived in perfect harmony with wild animals in ancient years. In fact, the tribe’s beliefs state before man became too self aware of his existence, he lived with the other animals and creatures and could even communicate with them. A folk tale that is narrated is of a man dancing with a tiger at Molo Damshang. However, with time man became increasingly self aware and parted away from the other creatures, thereby giving up his ability to communicate with them too.

Their major festival is the Naknyu Lem in which they remain in darkness inside thir homes for 6 days only to step out and celebrate the light on the seventh day. The celebration involves dances, sports and even sacrifice.

Image Credits: http://costumesofindia.blogspot.com/2018/02/costumes-of-different-tribes-in-nagaland.html
  • Ao

The tribe occupies the Dikhu (Tsula) valley region of the Mokochung district. The tribe believes in after life. They celebrate two major festivals, Tsungremong which is celebrated for harvesting and the Moatsu festival which is celebrated to honour Lichaba whom they regard as the creator of the Earth.

Ao Tribe
Image Credits: https://jkphotosnagaland.blogspot.com/2014/02/ao-naga-men-and-women-in-traditional-attire-dress.html

A tale narrated in the tribe is of Champichanglangba who married the daughter of the above-named God Lichaba. Champichanglangba was set to possess magical powers which Lichaba himself sought to put to test but his son-in-law proved to be quite the wizard. Lichaba is said to have plotted to kill him. In fact, the nearby Ahom kingdowm also called him to their court to witness his powers. Champichanglangba was wounded which weakened his powers, so, he hid. Eventually he is believed to have flown into the sky and turned into the polestar!

  • Phom

There is an uncertainty about the coming into origin of the tribe of Phom.


Image Credits: https://jkphotosnagaland.blogspot.com/2015/03/phom-naga-traditional-dress-attire.html

Local legend states that there was a beautiful lady named Bhumla whose name meant the lady of the clouds. She and her husband bore multiple off-springs who were then called Phom. Another belief is that it was actually their neighbouring tribes that gave them this name on account of the fact that they belonged to a hilly region that was perpetually covered with clouds because “Phom” itself means clouds.

Interestingly as per a folklore they may have even narrated from stones!

Today, they practice agriculture and have remained relatively more traditional in comparison to the other tribes. They also indulge in pottery, spinning and bamboo working. The tribe practices a form of dressing which is reflective of their social standing.

The other Naga tribes are:

  • Chakhesang

They were the former Eastern Angami and separated from the Angami in order to become an independent tribe.

Image Credits: http://blog.indiatrail.org/2014/10/chakhesang-village-experience/
  • Zeliang

Spread out across Nagaland, Manipur and Assam, this tribe is homogenous as their settlements typically have only the one tribe in the area. The Hega festivl is greatly celebrated by the tribe.

Image Credits: https://www.traveldiaryparnashree.com/tag/zeliang-tribe
  • Lotha

A former head-hunting tribe, they were initially one of the major Naga tribes and only gave up head-hunting once they found Christianity. They were combined with the Rengmas originally but the Rengma village had a fight with the Lotha village of Phiro, leading them to become separate tribes.

Image Credits: http://kanglaonline.com/2015/12/different-tribes-of-nagaland-and-their-traditional-values-hornbill-festival-2015/lotha-tribe-2/
  • Rengma

Originally, a part of the Lothas as described above, the Rengma tribe became an independent tribe following the falling out. The tribe used to practice slavery until the onslaught of the British rule in India.

Image Credits: https://www.blogger.com/blogin.g?blogspotURL=https://jochuhyulo.blogspot.com/2011/10/the-rengma-naga-origin-and-migration.html
  • Khiamniungan

It is believed that they migrated to India from upper Burma along with the Yimchungers tribe, until the two separated. The Kiamniungan settled in the Tuensang district.

Image Credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lindadevolder/3237034282
  • Yimchunger

As aforementioned the Yimchunger arrived along with the Kiamniungan from Burma before separating. The tribe separates the festival of Metemneo which celebrates harvesting for 5 days after the millet crop has been harvested.

Image Credits: https://jkphotosnagaland.blogspot.com/2017/11/yimchunger-naga-men-traditional-attires-headgear.html
  • Kuki

They are Tibeto-Burman people spread across India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In fact, they are so widespread that except for Arunachal Pradesh, the tribe can be found in all other north-eastern states of India. They run the practice ‘Sawm’ a community centre of learning for young boys.

  • Sumi

This tribe is known for having been extremely aggressive but also fiercely loyal and brutally honest as well as simple.

Image Credits: https://jkphotosnagaland.blogspot.com/2017/11/yimchunger-naga-men-traditional-attires-headgear.html
Image Credits: https://www.assamportal.com/sumi-sema-nagas/
  • Pochury

The tribe was formed by 3 Naga communities Kopo (Sapo village), Kuchi (Kechuri village) and Khuri (Khuri village). The name is thus an acronym of their 3 villages.

Image Credits: https://nagalandtouristplaces.wordpress.com/tag/hornbill-nagaland/
  • Sangtam

Hailing from southern Nagaland, this tribe practices shifting cultivation. They celebrate 12 different festivals for their traditions and customs, under their common banner of “Unified Sangtam”.

Image Credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/waltercallens/494717117
  • Kachari

Originally called the Bodo Kachari with Bod denoting their Tibetan roots and Kachar signifying their proximity to waterways. The Dimasa Kacharis once made the ruling kingdom of Dimapur.

Image Credits: http://www.travely.co.in/2015/08/tribes-of-nagaland_27.html

So, there you have it, Nagaland’s 16 tribes. Let’s see how many you can trace or recognize when you visit!

Click here to see five best places to visit in Nagaland, or if you want to know about Naga Cuisine, then click here!

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