The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - extracts from 'Descriptive Ethnography of Bengal' on Nagas by E.T. Dalton

caption: Section 6. The Nagas of Upper Asam
caption: tattooing: face tattoos; head-taking necessary before marriage
medium: articles
person: Dalton/ E.T.
date: 1872
text: It was the custom of these clans to allow matrimony to those only who made themselves as hideous as possible by having their faces elaborately tattoed. The process of disfiguration is carried to such a length, that it gives them an unnatural darkness of complexion and that fearful look which results when a white man blackens his face.
text: (40) To this rite of disfiguration they are not admitted till they have taken a human scalp or a skull, or shared in some expedition in which scalps or a skull, or shared in some expedition in which scalps or skulls were taken. It is by no means essential that the skulls or scalps should be trophies of honorable warfare, or that they should even be taken from the bodies of declared enemies. A skull may be acquired by the blackest treachery, but so long as the victim was not a member of the clan, it is accepted as a chivalrous offering of a true knight to his lady.
text: The various tribes were gradually induced to enter into engagements to give up the horrible custom; but how, in refraining from it, they satisfied the cravings of the young women for this singular marriage present I know not.