Phom Naga village: A paradise of headhunters in Nagaland

Have you ever seen a Morung? Yachem village in Phom land maintains links with past through 100-years-old morung. In this article, we elucidate the significance of Morungs, Nagas past history and advent of Christianity in Nagaland.

Paradise of Headhunters

With the advent of Christianity in Nagaland, the dreadful cut of headhunting among tribal warriors has lost it significance, and the 'Morungs' where human skulls were dumped remind the existing progeny of their roots and history.

Phom Naga Village

Among many other Naga villages, the most progressive village is Phom Nagas Yachem village in Longleng district of Nagaland. Yachem village maintains links with its past through 'morung'- the seat of learning of Naga forefathers. Being the biggest village in Longleng district with around 1000 households has four Morungs - Yakang, Noksosang, Yangkhen, and Mokho Alicho, each morning revealing valuable aspects of the old Naga way of life and traditions.

Yakang Morung

Yakang is the original site of the Morungs in the village believed to have been built long before the Ahom King Sukhapa set foot on Nagaland back in 13th century. Villagers quoting British sources said Yakang was one of the biggest Morungs in Naga Hills during that time and it had five fire centers to train young men the art of war and living.

Morung Centers

The Morungs were built to train youth so that they could learn warfare skills; how to make Daos (Swords), guns and spears, weave baskets and also agricultural techniques. The Morung also holds a dark secret place where more than 1000 human skulls gathered during head hunting day lay buried beneath the floor of morung for visitors to see; a grim reminder of Ursula Graham Bower's description of the Naga Hills as the "Paradise of headhunters."

Skulls and Decoractions

84-year-old Moikum, chieftain of Yachem Village said, as late as 1967, the skulls were hung outside the house of warriors as decorations. But after the advent of Christianity in the Nagaland in 1976, the Naga people decided to bury the symbols of a violent past and embrace the new religion that advocated peace.

All villagers and most Nagas are either Christians or Catholism. 90% of the Naga population worship Jesus Christ and united under the Baptist denomination. Yakang morung still retains some of the oldest wooden sculptures and carvings. Queried on the figure of a Tiger in one of the original carvings. The chief of the village said the tiger symbolizes strength and agility the qualities of a warrior.

When the Morungs was being constructed for the first time hundreds of years ago, it was reported that a tigress too came to the morung and gave birth to cubs there. This was a good omen for the villagers, the village chief said.

Village Chief

The chieftain of the village is revered by all villagers and has still considerable clout in the affairs of the village but unlike the Konyak Anghs, he is permitted to marry only one wife. Of the 11 clans in the village, the chieftain is chosen from among three clans- Avanoho, Makiong, and Mokho. The present chieftain is from the Avono clan. His would-be successor Sangti is from Makiong clan.

According to elders, Yachem was once a sentinel village of the Phoms populated by warriors. The village was attacked twice by the Britishers. At the upper edge of the village is a strategic area with three giants banyan trees, which is olden times served as burial site as well as dumping point of enemy scalps.

Path of Modernity

Yachem village has buried it's headhunting past along with the skulls to tread the path of modernity. Many Yachem youth have left the village to pursue higher studies and careers. Even the area where three giant trees stands is now covered to a park. But when they come home, the morung remind them of their roots and history.


Author: Partha K.04 Jul 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 7

A very good and informative article on the great tradition of head-hunting of Naga people. Nagas are great fighters and it is understood that they came and settled in Nagaland from Tibet. Some anthropologists even say that the Nagas came from Mongolia. Head-hunting was a tradition for most of the sub-tribes. Even it is said that without head-hunting, a Naga young man would not get woman (women) to marry.

It is true that with the advent of Christianity, the tradition of head-hunting has gone down drastically. The last head-hunting was reported to be in 1990 following a land dispute between two tribes. Now longhouses, skull houses and morungs, the wooden village barracks where Naga boys were trained to hunt, have all been torn down, and Baptist chapels have been erected in their place. But old Nagas still lament the loss of traditional Naga values and culture. They say that they were told to throw out everything integral to their culture: not just the primitive things like head-hunting, but their art and tattooing. They were told to bury their log-drums and burn the mithun-horn trophies.

Fortunately, after the death of separatist Naga leader A.Z. Phizo and with the continuous effort of the Governments, the Nagas have been assimilating themselves with Indian society. However, I would like to say that the Naga Regiments of Indian Army still proudly talk about the tradition of head-hunting. The entrances of Naga Regiments still proclaim: "Beware! We are head-hunters."

Author: John Theo Sang04 Jul 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 1

Partha, your input is valuable and I am inclined to agree with you. The dreadful cult of headhunting is still practiced among some tribes especially during Tribal Wars.

Author: Partha K.04 Jul 2017 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 0

Mr. Deo: Many Nagas, especially the elderly people, don't like deviation from tradition and custome. This is because Nagas are traditionally a martial and hunting community.

Author: John Theo Sang07 Jul 2017 Member Level: Gold   Points : 7

Mostly, the people of Nagas believe in things that they don't understand and that's the reason why we still have to suffer. A Naga village or tribe has no say in the affairs of another tribe or village.

The Naga Hills formed the Naga National Council (NNC in 1964) based on the democratic Principle of Non-Violence for the Pan Naga Tribes of the Northeast India and Burma. Initially, Tuensang to Mon area was not in Naga Hills, it was in the Northeast frontier agency, and the NNC could not take decisions for the area. Mr. Phizo met the leaders of Tuensang area and persuaded them to join the NNC.

The territorial limit of Nagaland state is a very serious matter; nobody on his own has the power to integrate or disintegrate state territories. Suppose, Muivah is Naga from Manipur and can have a say for that state but not for Nagaland.

Lastly, Nagaland seemed to have been blinded with its own stubborn self-righteous national political arrogance. It seems to have become so dependent and defensive in its political and tribalism outlook that it appears naively unbalanced.

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