The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

typescript - memoir of time in the Naga Hills as a Deputy Commissioner, 1919-1920

caption: head-taking
medium: articles
person: Ongli Ngaku
person: Cantlie/ Keith
date: 1919-1920
form: private collection
refnum: loaned by Dr Audrey Cantlie
text: All the tribes practised this - Aos, Semas and Angamis etc. Much has been written about it and the ceremonies attending it. The tradition persists that in pre-British days a girl would not look at a suitor for marriage with favour unless he had proved his manhood by taking a head. I myself cannot believe this as the population would have been wiped out. Mills reports that the Ao population between the ten yearly census counting was stationary from natural causes as head taking had ceased and the Semas had actually increased beyond their food supply, a fact that might be attributed to stoppage of head taking. But Hutton writes that in the unadministered territory east of the "Inner line", he knew of two villages at war for some years during which time only four heads were taken. Occasionally large massacres took place and an expedition went across our frontier to punish a village for a massacre. Heads were taken by ambushing usually. A woman's head was an object prized as greatly as that of a man. To get the head one had to go near the enemy's village. The horrible act of killing children did not seem repulsive or shameful to a Naga. Prohibition by the British took the spice out of life to Nagas whose conversation in old times was said to be mainly about head taking and boasting about it. When at Mukokchung Mills and I visited the head dobashi, Ongli Ngaku, an impressive figure, who in spite of my protests insisted on giving me a tiny conical basket of woven cane for carrying betel nut or tobacco strapped to one's waist to which was attached the long hair of a woman whose head had been taken in some trans-frontier village. I did not want this ghastly trophy but it is still in my collection.