Konyak Naga Headhunter KonyakNaga headhunter tribaltattoos tattoohistory India tribes

Konyak Naga Tribe: Last Of The Tattooed Headhunters!

The Konyak Naga earned their tattoos by taking the head of an enemy!

21inkedd in Stories

Last of the headhunters, the Konyak Naga wear tattoos to show bravery and warrior prowess, and one photographer documented them in detail.

Tattooing was born out of tribal societies and traditions. Marking your body was often done as a milestone or ceremonial practice, the Konyak Naga tribe are no different. 

Living on the edge of India's Nagaland province in a small village named Longwa the Konyak Naga tribe are considered the last of the headhunters and have the tattoos to prove it. In the past the warriors of the Konyak Naga would kill an enemy and bring back their head as a trophy, they would then be rewarded with a ceremonial tattoo on their face or chest. Now while the tribe is no longer allowed to kill or practice headhunting a number of the elder warriors still wear the tattoos they earned in their youth. 

The former warriors wear jewelry and tattoos that signify how many people they have killed and how many heads they brought back from raids on other tribes!! 

At one time the huts of the Konyak Naga were decorated with dozens of human skulls, the more skulls on the hut the more powerful the warrior. Today however the huts are decorated with animal skulls instead, now converted to Christianity the Konyak Nage no longer hunt humans.

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'In earlier times we used to hang the heads of our enemies on the walls of our houses, but now we are not allowed. So we have replaced them with the skulls of animals that we kill to provide for our family. Heads were to us what money is to your generation. They brought us respect and meant getting a better girl for marriage. And our tattoos symbolised our achievements.' 


Photographer Trupal Pandya visited the Konyak Naga and documented the tattoos of the elder warriors before they disappear forever. The warriors however still carry their spears as a symbol of pride and respect, although they have found it difficult to come to terms with their modern way of life.  

'The best is the past life, these days you say you don't have any headhunting but you kill thousands of people a day. We killed four to five people a month for our rights. Now you kill thousands and still consider headhunting was bad.' 

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The tribe hasn't actively practiced headhunting since the 1960s but 86 year-old headhunter Ching Kum is held with great respect in the tribe after claiming his last head in 1990 while fighting a rival tribe! 

Robert Davies
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Ching Kum Claimed His Last Head in 1990 KonyakNaga headhunter tribaltattoos tattoohistory India tribes
Ching Kum Claimed His Last Head in 1990 #KonyakNaga #headhunter #tribaltattoos #tattoohistory #India #tribes

A window into a dying way of life the photographs of Trupal Pandya make for some interesting but intense viewing. 

21inkedd

@Robert Davies

Tattoodo Staff Writer and tattoo enthusiast. Lover of all things traditional and blackwork!

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