The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

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

caption: Chapter Eleven. Sacred Chiefs
caption: description of tattooing at Hungphoi
medium: books
ethnicgroup: Konyak
location: Hungphoi
person: Furer-Haimendorf
date: 6.1936-6.1937
text: While I was eating my breakfast, on the morning after our arrival in Hungphoi, Chingai came running into my hut. There was a young wife in the village being tattooed; would the Sahib like to watch? The girls are generally tattooed on their legs and arms at the age of eight or nine, but the full tattoo, consisting of two broad bands above the knees, is only completed when a girl becomes pregnant and wants to move into her husband's house. The completion of the tattoo marks the wife's entrance into the man's clan. When I arrived, I found the girl stretched out on the floor of the veranda of her parents' house, amidst a crowd of laughing and chatting friends. Five women held her down as she writhed with pain, while a woman of Ang clan, alone expert in this art, drew two broad rings with geometric ornamentations in dark blue dye round the knees, and then punctured the design into the skin with an adze-like instrument made from the thorns of a small palm. For hours the artist hammered mercilessly and the thorns picked into the sensitive skin round the hollows of the knees. Curiously enough, even the whimpering of the victim followed a prescribed pattern swelling up and down in little cascades. The other girls did not show much sympathy with their moaning friend, but considered the whole affair more or less amusing, and continually broke into peals of laughter. What woman would not think it natural to suffer in order to be beautiful? Returning after some time I found the operation completed, and the patient sitting in the shadow (100) enjoying a meal of rice and taro with the other women.