The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database


General principles of selection

We now have media-videodisc, compact disc, hard disc - which will hold hitherto inconceivably large sets of visual, aural and textual information. Nevertheless, in practice there is always too little space, time, energy or interest, so that only part of the materials that have survived can be transferred.

We have already described in a preliminary way how the minds and interests of the observers absorbed only a small part of the Naga world into their camera lenses and writings. A second distortion then occurs by the action of history and accidents of storage; a great deal has been lost, or is buried in private or public collections in such a way that we were unable to use it.

Nevertheless, even with these two filters, a very great deal has survived and this has meant that we have had to make some selections from what we have found. Since such a selection is inevitable in any project of this nature and affects the meaning and value of what is available, we may briefly describe the principles of selection in each major type of material.


Since there are a finite number of these, and they are of great value, we have tried to include practically all the photographs we have located. Only a few hundred out of the roughly seven thousand black and white photographs we discovered have been omitted.

These were left out on the following grounds: they were duplicates of, or very similar to, other images; their quality was poor; they were outside the delimited geographical area; they were outside our time span; or they fell on the side of "private experience" as opposed to "public experience", in the sense meant by John Berger (About Looking, 1980, p.51).

We did not "censor" any photographs because their content was embarrassing or shocking in any way, or might do damage to the reputation of individuals, the British, anthropology as a discipline, or for other such reasons.

This latitude obviously raises important issues, given that the videodisc system is intended for use in a variety of educational contexts.

Many of the images from the colonial era do, after all, portray the people concerned in a way which is objectifying, decontextualizing, or exoticizing. It is undeniably the case that the camera did contribute to the "normalising gaze", in Foucault's terms, by which a subtle form of power was exercised over others by classifying them and making them visible.

The Naga videodisc does not attempt to avoid these issues, but, rather, hopes through the associated tutorials and courseware to encourage a critical attitude on the part of users to the historical interaction of anthropology and administration.

It must also be said that the antithesis to decontextualized images is also contained on the disc itself, in the shape of some of the earliest, and best, examples of a recognisably "modern" era of empathetic and contextualized anthropological photography.


There were two problems here. First, we found very little film before 1947; but since film is so important, we decided to break the temporal boundaries and include movie film taken on two visits to Nagaland in 1963 and 197O by an anthropologist who had worked in the area in 1936-7. When we included these, we now had some six hours of film.

One side of a videodisc will hold only 36 minutes of moving film (in interactive mode), and since we needed to allocate at least six minutes to the photographs, we only had about thirty minutes free. This meant that we had to reduce the film at a ratio of 1:12.

We spent many weeks going through again and again, whittling away material, trying to minimise the loss of valuable archival footage. The principles we evolved and acted on were as follows.

The first consideration was the content of the moving images. We tried to include that material which was most intellectually and academically interesting. This is a subjective matter, but includes that material which portrayed events and processes which were most representative, most revealing, most unusual, and illuminated the other still images and texts in the most significant way.

The visual images which were unusual included those which were only preserved in this medium, for instance the eating of dried rats, or a shared joke between anthropologist and Naga.

We concentrated on subjects where movement and action were important, for instance dance, games, postures and gestures, rituals, agricultural labour. If long and repeated sequences of film on the same subject were present, we selected only one or two sequences.

The second set of principles was concerned with form. Taking into account the interest of the content, we rejected badly filmed sequences, that is to say the few sequences which were out of focus, badly composed, unsteady, from too great a distance and so on. We rejected film that was damaged, the colour fading, or otherwise unsatisfactory, unless it was particularly interesting.

We preferred close-up shots of detail in most cases to the wider shots of a more static kind, which could be preserved with one or two selected stills. Close-ups are more effective on the intimate television screen.

In considering the selection for the videodisc, there was one set of factors which gave us a considerable advantage over the person who is undertaking normal editing down from raw film. These are connected to the absolute precise controllability of this new medium.

With normal film, one is constrained to save and knit together reasonably long sequences, five seconds at least, and often three times that length, just to capture the run up to something important happening, for instance an immobile man before he starts to run up to do a jump. Again, the action itself, if it is to be appreciated by the viewer and happens rapidly, may need to be shown at some length, or from several different angles. In other words, a great deal of redundancy has to be built in to normal editing, since the viewer will only see the images flashing past once.

With videodisc the user becomes the editor, master of the medium. One effect of this is that one is not constrained in selecting shots for inclusion on the disc by the usual film conventions, such as keeping the stage line or matching shots.

There is a sense in which film that has been shrunk or contracted in the editing process can be expanded again at the viewing stage.

This is because it is possible to treat each frame in a precise way. One can take just one shot of a view, or non-moving group of people, and hold it as an establishing shot for a number of seconds; if necessary one can easily go back to the start of the sequence and play through in slow motion to explain in detail what is happening, and so on.

In other words, instead of merely cutting a long set of moving sequences into shorter pieces and sticking them in a precise order, one is creating a set of images, some of them still frames, some of them sequences of still frames taken every few seconds, some of them moving sequences.

The boundaries between still and moving films blur, and one is able to abstract precisely a great deal of the visual information without apparently losing much. It should be stressed, however, that there is a different 'feel' as between a frozen frame and a 'still' filmed sequence.

In this way we created out of six hours of film approximately one hundred and fifty moving sequences, each lasting between three and about twenty-five seconds, the average being about eight seconds. We also abstracted about one thousand "stills" taken out of moving sequences where there was little movement, or randomly every few seconds to capture a series of events, for instance transactions in the market.


Here there is again a problem of selection. There are known to be well over fifteen thousand Naga artefacts in European museums and private collections, at least twelve thousand of them in Britain.

To have located and photographed them all would not only have absorbed much of the effort of the team, but the final photographs would have used up over a quarter of the total space for visual images on the videodisc. It would also have given, in some artefacts, hundreds of almost exact duplicates.

One general criterion was accessibility. That is to say we confined our work to certain major private and public collections in England, though we knew of others in other parts of the British Isles and Europe, not to mention America and, of course, India and Nagaland itself. From the brief descriptions of other collections, it did appear that we were able to see and select a fairly representative sample of artefacts.

Within the ten thousand or so artefacts which we either examined in themselves, or through catalogue descriptions, we used a number of criteria. We sought a representative selection, in terms of the types and functions of artefacts and their origins in different Naga groups.

We attempted to use Naga criteria of significance rather than our own-that is, to ensure the chosen artefacts did reveal the key features of Naga social structure and belief (status, head-taking, kinship organisation and so on).

Where there was duplication, we tended to choose artefacts with superior documentation, and left out those where the condition of the artefact was very poor. We sought to photograph as many nineteenth century artefacts as possible, on the grounds of their rarity.

Such artefacts also were crucial in throwing light on a key research interest - the colonial encounter. What can we learn from the types of artefacts collected, about how the Nagas were perceived and classified as the colonial era developed?

We also bore in mind the need to photograph artefacts which would be interesting from a comparative perspective - for example, artefacts indicative of trade amongst Naga groups or between Nagas and neighbouring peoples; artefacts bearing strong resemblances to other South East Asian hill tribes; artefacts which, when compared with others, revealed continuity or change over time.

We emphasised artefacts which we knew would tie in well with other material on the disc, such as artefacts collected by administrators or ethnographers whose writings feature prominently in the textual database.

We sought to ensure that mundane, everyday items were as well represented as the more exotic and aesthetically exciting artefacts. Where there was obvious interest, we photographed from two angles, but constraints of time and difficulty in placing artefacts left this task incomplete.


Here there was relatively little difficulty with selection. Since the absolute number was not great, in the hundreds, we included all those pictures which we thought could possibly be of some interest. Many very simple line drawings were included when they tied up with textual descriptions, and only very occasionally did we leave out an illustration because it duplicated something else or was so minor and badly documented that it seemed confusing to include it.


The 72 minutes of sound data included on the two tracks of the disc, are an attempt to provide very different kinds of data. We sought to combine recordings of a time breadth to match the photographs. Thus we included early wax cylinder recordings (1919) and present-day (1987) recordings of songs, with their considerable Christian influence. Examples of several kinds of instruments have been included, such as drums, jew's-harps, stringed instruments, as well as singing. Field recordings of conversation (1970) have also been included. This is referred to as 'sound' in the indexes.


We had hoped that we would merely have to photograph the various maps of Nagaland from the earliest times up to 1947, including the very detailed Survey Of India maps of c.1910-1945.

However, when we experimented with the maps by looking at photographs of the ordnance survey maps on the screen, we discovered that this was impossible. However much we magnified the maps by photographing them in tiny sections, the mountainous nature of Nagaland meant that all we could see were blurry pictures of contour lines, with the odd village name, almost unreadable, dotted among them.

We found therefore that we had to re-draw the maps, ending up with 165 sketch maps on the videodisc. All contours were left off, but otherwise they included rivers, major mountains, borders and the location and names of some 1400 villages and towns which were mentioned in one or more of our photographic or textual sources. The maps were mainly based on the 1:2 Survey of India maps of the area.

All maps and mapping were subject to considerable errors, compounded in this case by the difficult terrain, the shifting character of many Naga villages and the immense complexity of village names, which can vary radically from author to author, or even within the same author.

The maps are therefore, very much to be thought of as sketch maps. They form the basis of "map-walking" software, developed for the project, which allows the user to move north or west to the next map.

General principles in selecting texts

The selection of texts was done with two overall considerations in mind, which relate to the innovative nature of Interactive Video as a technology.

The system can be thought of as essentially an archive, in which case one would probably wish to exercise fairly limited editorial control; on the other hand, it is also a teaching resource, and in this sense does require some attention to including material which is likely to be of use in diverse educational contexts.

The main problem here is not so much one of total available space, but of the effort of data entry.

It will not be long before standard microcomputers have hundreds of megabytes of storage available, so there is unlikely to be a long-term difficulty in holding materials. Yet if we consider the labour not only of inputting material, but then of checking it and indexing it very precisely to make it useful, it becomes clear that unless one has very large funds and a team of workers over a long period, one is bound to reach the limit of what can be fed into the computer.

In effect, if we add up all the different parts of people's lives that have gone into this project, it is probable that we had the equivalent of five or six person-years of human labour available.

Thus one has to select from the surviving materials. A few of the broader principles of such selection need to be mentioned.

Firstly, we have concentrated, with the major exception of one very long diary in German, entirely on texts in English. Perhaps a tenth of the writings on the Nagas before 1947 has thus been excluded for consideration. Secondly, we have tended to concentrate our efforts mainly on the period between about 191O and 1947, leaving the nineteenth century more selectively treated. Thirdly, we have directed much of our efforts to the more intimate and detailed accounts by specific individuals whose visual materials are available on the videodisc.


Thus we have attempted to collect and put into the computer all the relevant surviving materials of R.G.Woodthorpe, J.H.Hutton, J.P.Mills, C. von Furer-Haimendorf, Ursula Graham Bower and W.G.Archer. Added to these are smaller collections from other twentieth century authors.

For the nineteenth century we have only selected a few texts, for instance part of the ethnographic survey by Dalton, the diary of Godwin-Austen, Woodthorpe's papers and some manuscripts of Colonel J.Butler.

At present,the gaps are as follows. Of the several hundred articles written about the Nagas between 1832 and 1947, we have only included a few. Secondly, as far as the official records are concerned, we have only sampled a few of the very extensive files. We have included a file on a military expedition, a gazetteer, some official reports.

Since the technique we have used is deliberately open-ended, it will always be possible to incorporate more of the materials which undoubtedly exist in the India Office Library and other archives both in Britain and India. Little use was made of missionary archives, or of materials on Burma.


This summary describes the major editorial decisions, to include or exclude a whole class of documents, or whole lengthy text. There are more subtle ways in which one is forced to edit documents, however.

As far as internal editing of texts is concerned, we have only applied two rules. If the material is likely to cause personal offence or political embarrassment to living persons, we have omitted it. In all the files we have included, this has led us to omit probably less than a couple of pages of material.

Secondly, if the material is repetitive or apparently trivial and of only personal interest, we have omitted this.

With regard to the actual materials, we have occasionally corrected spelling or minor grammatical errors which obscure the meaning, but otherwise we have not changed the documents. The fieldwork diaries of Professor Furer-Haimendorf were especially translated for us by Dr Ruth Barnes, an anthropologist and native German speaker. They were checked for accuracy by Professor Furer-Haimendorf.

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