The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - 'Notes on the Wild Tribes Inhabiting the So-Called Naga Hills, on our North-East Frontier of India', by Col. R.G. Woodthorpe, 1881

caption: meaning of the term 'Naga'; village names
medium: notes
person: Woodthorpe/ R.G.
date: 1881
refnum: given at a meeting of the Anthropological Institute, 1881
text: The Naga tribes inhabit the hills south-east of Assam, dividing that province from the north-west portion of the Burmese territory. ...Various derivations have been given for the name Naga, some supposing it to come from the Bengali word Nangta, in Hindustani "Nanga" = "naked". Others think that the Kachari word Naga = a young man = a warrior, supplies the name; while others again derive it from "Nag" = " a snake". Not one of these derivations is satisfactory, nor does it really concern us much to know more about it, seeing that the name is quite foreign to and unrecognized by the Nagas themselves. They have no generic term for the whole race, nor even for each of the various tribes constituting this race. A Naga when asked who he is, generally replies that he is of such and such village, though sometimes a specific name is given to a group of villages. In the old maps of Assam the Naga Hills immediately bordering the plains are shown as divided into districts, the names of which as given on the maps were supposed to be the tribal names of the inhabitants of those districts. Such is, however, not the case. When the Assam Rajahs held sway over these hills, they exacted tribute from the Nagas, and for convenience in collecting this, the villages were divided into districts, or in the vernacular "Duars" and names were arbitrarily given to these districts by the Rajahs; hence we find such names on the map, unknown by the Nagas generally, as "Dup-duar-ias", "Pani-duar-ias", "Hatigorias" (Hatigoria is the former Assamese equivalent for Ao.), &c. Assamese names were also given to each village. The men who go down into the plains and come much into contact with the Assamese are aware of these names, and answer to them, and even describe themselves by these Assamese names to a foreigner visiting them, but that is only because they think he will thereby understand better all about them. In the Burmese invasions of the Naga Hills many villages were looted and burned. These have been since rebuilt, and new names given to them, the old ones also being frequently retained.