The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

manuscript notes made by W.G. Archer between 1946 & 1948, and miscellaneous papers and letters

caption: head-taking and the symbolism of warriors' dress
medium: notes
ethnicgroup: AoSangtam
location: Sangsomo Chongtore (Chungtore)
person: Archer/ W.G.
date: 1946-1948
refnum: 5:10
text: Dress as a symbolic diagram of the raid.
text: Ceremonial warriors' dress is worn:
text: 1. at dancing festival (a) Amongmong - August (b) Vitung - March.
text: 2. a formal visit to a friendly village.
text: 3. dragging in a log-drum.
text: 4. a mithan feast by a rich man.
text: 5. bringing in a head. At other times worn in an abbreviated form eg. gaonbura of Sangsomo
text: wears baldric of red cloth sewn with cowries in the shape of men - instead of the 2 baldrics of goats' hair.
text: On return from a group expedition the raiders announce the result by different cries.
text: 1. if defeated - silence.
text: 2. if killed an enemy but no head - 'he-lo, he-lo, he-lo'.
text: 3. If coming with a head - 'o-ke-o-ke-o-ke' high pitch by the first striker 'o-he-o-he-o-he' in lower pitch by the others - then first striker 'mako-ke-mako-ke-mako-ke' then others 'o-he-o- he-o-he'. When the village hear the cries they understand - in 2nd & 3rd case they go out to the forest to meet the party taking food and their warriors' dress - the party puts on the dress & then enters the village in triumph - takes the head to the drum - and so on (see notes on log drum) - if a bit of a head, the same procedure.
text: Heads are taken because:
text: 1. unless the head is brought in there is no proof that the warrior has actually killed a man.
text: 2. heads are a way of deciding priority in the village, choosing a ruler 'I took 10 heads, you took 5'.
text: 3. the drum is the guardian of the village - 'We give it heads because it protects us'.
text: 4. it is through the drum that victory is secured - & tribute is obtained 'Because we got heads through the drum we give them to it'. Wars usually start over land or mithan - ie. the needs of the village.
text: 5. Ao & Sangtam - myth 'In old days there was no head-taking. One day a caterpillar & a red ant fought. The ant killed the caterpillar & bit off its head. When the Sangtams saw that even the ants take heads, they decided that men should do so too. Since then, whenever men have fought they have taken heads'.
text: 6. 'In the forest the large trees had creepers (chiko). The creepers had fruits like heads. Men thought it would be good to adorn a tree like that & to have one in their village. But the creeper would not grow. So they brought bamboo poles and put them in the tree like the creepers. Then they tied tufts of grass to the top. But the grass did not look well. Then they tied some bottle gourds to the poles. But they too did not look well. So then a rich man killed a slave and tied the head to the pole. It looked good. Before that they did not kill men. Since then they have killed men and hung heads at the makutung' Sangsomo villagers.
text: 'In early days the Sangtams had no weapons and did not know the art of war. If they fought, they fought with fists, legs and teeth. They did not kill. They did not know how to cut. If they won they took their enemy captive, brought him to the village & made him a slave. They bit him as a sign that he was captured. If he fought back, they pierced his ears with bamboo, fitted a bamboo strip to his head & pinned him to a pole. His head looked down. He stayed there till his owner gave a pig or mithan. Then he was let go and sent to work for his owner. That was before there was any log-drum'. Sangsomo villagers.
text: 'In early days villages were small and very far apart. All around was the great forest. If a man was far out in the forest, no one could make him hear. One day they found a hollow tree. A man struck it & it gave out a great sound. Men who were far away heard it. Then they felled the tree and struck it once again. Again it gave out a great sound. Then they considered how to take it to the village. They cut off the branches and made it into a long log. They pulled it to the village. There they beat it & far off in the forest its sound was heard. Then they offered it a pig & cock. That year the crops were very good. They said it is the doing of the drum. Since then they have kept a drum and worshipped it'. Sangsoma.
text: Heads are hung at the makutung
text: 1. so that the skulls may bleach.
text: 2. to impress strangers and display the villages' power.
text: - the makutung is not a specially sacred place - only an adjunct to the drum.
text: A mithan or a buffaloes head is the equivalent of a human head - for all purposes of ritual, status, dress etc. (Chungtore has many buffalo heads).