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Tibeto-Burmese origin

History, peoples and environment of Nagaland


History

Legends tell

Little is known about the early history of Nagaland and there are no written records. Legends tell of popular migrations, heroes, legendary lovers or describe the emergence of mankind. Stone monuments and rock formations in many parts of Nagaland are reminders of some of these events. The Angami Nagas, for example, have a strong megalithic tradition. The erected stones commemorate great events such as natural phenomena or honor heroic deeds of families. All Nagas were brave, freedom-loving warriors and hunters; feuds between Naga villages and tribes were widespread. For this reason, villages were only built where they could be easily defended. The settlements were protected with stone walls, bamboo spears, wooden gates and ditches. Such protective structures have been preserved in the villages of Kohima and Khonoma and give an impression of the underlying techniques. Before the 13th century, the region was ruled by the powerful Kachari tribe, Dimapur was their capital. Today, ruins and monoliths in and around Dimapur city are reminders of this advanced Kachari civilization. In early times, the Nagas were headhunters, for a variety of reasons. The warriors decorated their houses with the head trophies of enemy tribes, making their status visible to all villagers. It was also hoped that the sacrifice would lead to a better harvest, for example. The last headhunt is said to have taken place in the Tuensang district in August 1978.

The British first made contact with the peoples of Nagaland in 1832, but met with resistance. The last organized uprising against British colonization took place in Khonoma between 1879 and 1880, and British India officially took over the reins of government for the first time in 1881. During the Second World War, a bloody battle between the Allies and Japan took place in Nagaland’s capital. With India’s independence in 1949, the regions of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam were merged to form the state of “Assam”. The Nagas’ demand for a separate political status grew louder in the early 1960s; in 1963, they were finally granted the status of an independent state of the Indian Republic. In 1964, the first democratic elections were held in Nagaland. However, Naga separatists continued their violent opposition in order to achieve a fully autonomous status for Nagaland and the incorporation of all areas inhabited by Nagas in neighboring states of northeast India. Since 1995, the country has again been open to foreign visitors on a limited basis. Promising peace negotiations have been underway since August 1, 2000 and harmony has spread in most areas. Today, Nagaland enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Special regulations enable the Naga tribes to manage their affairs largely independently. Each tribe has advisors who are responsible for settling local disputes at village and tribal level, and the British first made contact with the peoples of Nagaland in 1832, but met with resistance. The last organized uprising against British colonization took place in Khonoma between 1879 and 1880, and British India officially took over the reins of government for the first time in 1881. During the Second World War, a bloody battle between the Allies and Japan took place in Nagaland’s capital. With India’s independence in 1949, the regions of Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam were merged to form the state of “Assam”. The Nagas’ demand for a separate political status grew louder in the early 1960s; in 1963, they were finally granted the status of an independent state of the Indian Republic. In 1964, the first democratic elections were held in Nagaland. However, Naga separatists continued their violent opposition in order to achieve a fully autonomous status for Nagaland and the incorporation of all areas inhabited by Nagas in neighboring states of northeast India. Since 1995, the country has again been open to foreign visitors on a limited basis. Promising peace negotiations have been underway since August 1, 2000 and harmony has spread in most areas. Today, Nagaland enjoys a high degree of autonomy. Special regulations enable the Naga tribes to manage their affairs largely independently. Each tribe has advisors who take care of settling local disputes at village and tribal level.

Nagas – images of nature

Peoples and religions

The collective term “Naga” covers around 30 different ethnic groups of Tibeto-Burmese origin in the mountains of the far north-east of India and the north-west of Myanmar, formerly Burma. The humorous and deeply religious people have a rich culture of handicrafts, unique folklore, dances and music. Poetic love songs, gospel and modern songs go hand in hand. While their appearance, language and customs may vary considerably, the Naga groups share basic beliefs, cultural traditions and social practices. Due to their remote and inaccessible environment and many political turmoils – their territory was closed to foreigners for 65 years – the Naga have preserved many old traditions, even though missionaries have converted almost the entire population from animist beliefs to Christianity. But even though most Nagas profess Christianity, the original animistic culture of mankind is still present here. The Nagas see themselves as images of nature. Their musical forms of expression serve to “praise the universe, the flora and fauna and everything that exists on earth”. They believe in the value of striving for harmony and that humans, animals and everything that exists are equal. People also believe in life after death, which is why ancestor worship and animism play an important role. A rather small proportion of the current population in Nagaland is of Hindu faith (around 7.8%), and less than 2% are Muslims.

The original peoples can be roughly divided into a northern, a central and a southern group, although the transitions are fluid. The main groups are the Konyak, the Khiamniungan and Yimchunger as well as the Ao, Sema and Angami. The tribes differ in language, settlement area, traditions and government structure. The Angami, Lotha, Rengma and Ao are democratically organized. The Angami elect their chief on the basis of his wealth, appearance and diplomatic skills. Nevertheless, decisions are made in consultation with all the villagers. Among the Semas, on the other hand, the chief is determined by bloodline. The chief looks after the welfare of the villagers, distributes land, helps financially, offers protection and arranges weddings. The villagers revere the chief as a father for whom they work and fight. Among the Semas, it was traditional for the eldest son to found his own village outside his father’s territory, which led to a regional, relatively wide spread of this people. Among the Aos, the village is governed by a council of elders. Each village is democratic and independent. The Konyak chiefs are considered sacred and are called “Ahngs”, which means “beginning of everything”. They are both autocrats and democrats, wear richly decorated clothes and are highly respected and revered by the villagers. The Konyaks believe that they are direct descendants of Moses. Biblical names such as Mosa, Kaisa and Aron are widespread among the people. The Konyaks are known for their tattooed faces, their blackened teeth and their headhunting past.
The wedding traditions of the tribes are also very different. What they have in common, however, is that all Nagas forbid marriage within the same clan. The only exception here are the Konyak chiefs, who are considered so sacred that their main wife must come from the same clan.

The traditional occupations of women from all tribes include collecting wood, fetching water, cooking, brewing rice beer, working in the fields and weaving. Among the Angamis, by the way, it is normal for a young woman to have a lover, whereas the Semas take great care of their young women so that a generous dowry can be demanded. The Aos have a relatively liberal attitude, while sexual intercourse before marriage is common among the Konyaks.

Over the centuries, the proud and warlike Nagas with a history of headhunting have developed unique cultural characteristics. They find expression in their legends, their martial arts, their exotic headdresses, their tattooed faces (among the Konyaks) as well as in their rich music, dance and poetry culture.

More than 80% of Nagaland’s population live in small, isolated villages as agricultural subsistence farmers, hunters and gatherers.

extremely unusual ingredients

Food

The main staple food in Nagaland is tour. This is eaten together with meat, vegetables and very hot chili. Numerous wild vegetable, herb and fruit varieties are used in Naga cuisine. Their diversity often depends on chance, as only a relatively small area of land is cultivated and used specifically. Other ingredients that are extremely unusual for the European palate are insects such as caterpillars and spiders as well as dog or cat meat. Meat is often dried to preserve it. In some areas, a special bread made from “sticky rice” is prepared on an open fire, a successful and delicious form of preservation. As a drink alongside fresh spring water, rice beer is widespread and very popular, although Nagaland is officially considered a “dry” state. This rice beer is traditionally served in a rustic bamboo cup.
Rare plants and animals

Flora and Fauna

Once almost completely forested – from evergreen rainforest to sub-alpine high forest – the inaccessible Naga areas up to altitudes of over 2500 meters were refuges for the tribes of the indigenous people and for rare plants and animals such as tigers, leopards, bears, rhinoceroses, elephants, Gayal cattle, Mithun buffalo, gibbons and hornbills. Some forest areas are sacred to the tribes and remain virtually untouched to this day. As even the few areas used for agriculture are mainly cultivated in harmony with nature, an extraordinary biodiversity has been preserved to this day. Especially in the protected areas, there is a chance of spotting bears or even gray giants such as rhinos and elephants. Monkeys populate the forest canopy and, if startled, can even drown out the many bird calls for a short time.
Myna, cuckoos, parrots, …

National parks & nature reserves

Khonoma Nature Conservation Tragopan Sanctuary

Not far from Kohima, this nature reserve with its 25 square kilometers of protected area provides habitat for numerous bird species (tragopan) and many interesting and rare plant species.

Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary

This small nature reserve in the eastern mountains near Myanmar offers a rich subtropical plant diversity, created thanks to heavy rainfall in June and July.

Rangapahar Reserve Forest

A wide variety of bird species can be observed in this 20-hectare area (myna, cuckoo, parrots, sunbird, parkeet, robin, quail, woodpeckers, hornbill, swift hawk, crows). Monkeys, tigers, deer, porcupines and squirrels are also native to the area.

Ghosu Bird Sanctuary

In the district of Zunheboto in the Sumi Nagas’ country, the villagers maintain a bird sanctuary with populations of over 20 endangered bird species.

Agriculture for self-sufficiency

Economy

About 70% of the population work in agriculture. The majority farm exclusively for self-sufficiency: Rice, millet, maize and pulses are among the main products. Sugar cane, potatoes, coffee, cardamom, tea, pineapple and rapeseed are also cultivated. Rice cultivation for self-sufficiency takes up by far the largest share of the agricultural area, accounting for 80%. One of the larger companies in Nagaland is the sugar mill in Dimapur with a capacity of 1000 tons per day. There are also numerous small and medium-sized enterprises in the areas of bamboo and rattan processing, handicrafts, the paper and textile industry and tourism.