The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

book : Return to the Naked Nagas (1939;1976)

caption: Chapter Three. An Orgy in Stone
caption: bloodthirsty relations between Nagas and plainsmen; Kacharis and Ahoms
medium: books
ethnicgroup: KonyakAhomKachari
location: Tanhai
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: During the sixteenth century the power of the Kachari kings was shattered by the attacks of the Ahoms invading Assam. After a prolonged struggle the Ahoms captured and looted the capital, Dimapur, and the Kacharis retreated to the south-west. There they lived under their own rulers until the occupation of the country by the British in 1830.
text: We know little or nothing of the relations between the Kacharis and the neighbouring Naga tribes. But the chronicles of the Ahom kings, the heirs to their might, record fierce fights as well as peaceful dealings with the inhabitants of numerous Naga villages. These chronicles, or, as they are called, the Ahom Buranjis, reflect events much the same as took place in other parts of the world when warlike conquerors of higher civilization and superior organization came into contact with an aboriginal and primitive population.
text: The oldest of the reports date from the thirteenth century, when Shukapha, the Ahom King, came with his army over the mountains from Burma. Passing through the land of the Nagas, he conquered many villages with the greatest cruelty. "A great number of the Nagas were killed and many were made captives," reports the chronicle. "Some Nagas were cut to pieces and their flesh cooked. Then the King made a younger brother eat the cooked flesh of his elder brother and a father of his sons. Thus Shukapha destroyed the Naga villages".
text: The Nagas did not lack the taste for a thrilling raid or the cutting off of enemy heads, but they certainly did not appreciate such refinements of Ahom civilization; in the years to come they often stood out in open rebellion. About the year 100, the Ahom kings, deciding to change their tactics, invited a great number of Nagas to a feast. During the meal the unsuspecting guests were set upon and murdered. "Their heads were placed on a big stone in the form of a garland." (28) This, however, did not contribute in any way to pacification and during the fifteenth century the wars with the Nagas, and particularly with the restless tribes of the Konyaks, became more and more frequent. Yet there seem to have been times when the relations between the Ahoms and Nagas were quite friendly. For, of the visit of several Nagas to King Suchaupha, the chronicle contains the following idyllic report: "They came to take their presents from our King at Itanagar. The heavenly King spread two gorgeous cloths and having seated himself thereon taught them rules. On that day they drank with fear. The great King drank with them with drooping head and placing one leg upon the other."
text: Traditions of the Konyak Nagas tell of an Ahom King who, fleeing from his enemies into the hills, found refuge in the village of Tanhai. He married the daughter of the chief, and even today the people of Tanhai point to the stone which served the exiled King as a seat. Apparently the cultural differences between the Ahoms and the Nagas were not insurmountable, and the Nagas proved more human than the proud rulers of the Ahom kingdom. But in the hot, fertile plains of Assam, the Ahoms, like the Kacharis before them, lapsed gradually into decadence. Fiery warriors turned to peaceful peasants, and their small settlements often fell victims to the raiding Nagas from the nearby mountains. The taking of a head from the villages of the plains became a convenient habit, and one that was hard to extirpate even after the country was taken over by the British.