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Konyak People
About Konyak People

The Konyak are a Naga people, and are recognised among other Naga by their tattoos, which they have all over their face and hands. They are called the land of Angh's. They have the largest population among the Nagas. The Konyak language belongs to the Northern Naga subbranch of the Sal subfamily of Sino-Tibetan.

The Konyaks can be found in Myanmar, in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal, and in the Mon district of Nagaland, India. They are known in Arunachal as Wancho Konyak. The Konyaks people usually have a strong warrior tradition and are well-known because they were still headhunting until the late 1960′s-70′s. This is the reason why their villages are only situated on hilltops, in order to prevent attacks from other tribes.

Known as head hunters of North East India. In recent past they were known as war loving and often attack adjacent villages of other tribes and with their skill they used to cut head of the opponent warriors and hang them in the Morong (A public House). The number of head signifies the power of concerned person and later becomes the village head. Though except these cruel behaviors, among them they show very disciplined public life where duty of every individuals is very strict.

Itís not difficult to recognise the last living Konyak headhunters. As an honourary mark, a young man would receive a prominent facial tattoo when he managed to take an enemyís head. It was believed that by taking the head of an enemy as trophy, you would gain some of his power and soul. Those enemiesís heads were then hanged on the holy ritual tree at the entrance of every villages. This was a common practice until Christianisation reached them and turn those violent customs into dust.

Christian missionaries and British colonialists convinced or forced the Konyaks to Christianity, in order to make them giving up the habit of cutting off human heads, hence conquer them easily. The Konyak tribe opposed christianization and modernization for longer than most other Nagas tribes because wars and headhunting were a necessary part of their ritual life in the past. Despite that, Christianism reached them and headhunting was no longer practised.

The Konyaks hunted human skulls because they believed only these could guarantee the fertility of their fields and people. This belief has not ended but today the skulls have usually been substituted by wooden heads, and the rituals still persist. Some rather recent head hunts have been unofficially reported. When meeting the members of this tribe you can sometimes easily feel the violent past in their blood, which makes you realise how not far away from now it actually is.

Konyaks people used tattoos to indicate status just as other people might use ornaments or textiles. For example, Konyak Naga girls wore a tattoo on the back of the knee if they were married, as in Western cultures a finger-ring generally makes this statement. The chest tattoo is another classic traditional tattoo, which was a high social privilege and could only be worn by the best and bravest warriors of all, which make the few still alive even more difficult to meet.

Their specific traditional headhunters war hats were made of hunted wild pigs horns, hornbill feathers and wild bear or goat hair. Konyaks used a traditional basket specially made to carry and bring back human heads from war. It was ornamented with monkey skulls, wild pigs horns and sometimes hornbill beaks.

Konyak Village

Every Konyak village is ruled by one king, who obviously displays the more and biggest skulls. This main king can have from 3 to 6 other sub-kings, according to the village size, in order to maintain his social and war domination. Every sub-king is in charge of a different part of the village and reports to the main king. All kings are easily recognisable because of the clear blue beads on their legs. The more blue beads layers they wear, the most powerful and respected they are. In the past, kings used to get bribes from the dominated villages all around, even sometimes 50 km away from their own village, beating drums on vast carved dead trees to pass messages from villages to villages.


The imposing hornbill is a Nagaland symbol which represents loyalty, because of the female bird staying in the high nest and relying on her male to feed her. In the past, the right to use hornbill feathers had to be earned, feathers were not for sale, and only those that excelled in warfare received the honor to decorate themselves with the feathers. The Nagas tribes recently realized the damages they have done on the specie, so they stopped hunting them and they now protect them instead.

The hornbill was unfortunately not the only victim of the Konyaks traditions and way of living. The Konyaks platation system, as most the Nagas tribes, is the slash-and-burn cultivation. As its name can tell, this type of cultivation destroys the jungle and its whole biotope, forcing big wild animals, such as bears, panthers and tigers which used to live in this area, to totally disappear. The smaller animals, as wild pigs, monkeys and birds, have now to hide even further into the jungle, far from any human contact. The hunters complain about that because it makes them walk way further to get any decent catch. Konyaks use to keep animal skulls from those hunts into their homes to protect the people living inside from the evil spirits from the jungle. The amount of skulls displayed, inside and outside the house, disclose the social status of the owner. The more and bigger skulls, the highest the social status.



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