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The Tribes & Culture of Nagaland (Part –I)

The Tribes & Culture of Nagaland (Part –I)


In a two part series, the writer Prasanta Paul seeks to trace a little bit of the history of several tribes dotting this beautiful yet tiny Northeastern state of India, Nagaland

Nagaland is a vivacious hilly state in the northeastern part of India. With a total area of 16,579 sqkm, and a population of nearly 2.3 million, it is the smallest state of the country inhabited by the Naga tribes.

While some believe that the word Naga has been derived from ‘nagna’ (naked), others believe it to have originated from the word `naga’( meaning snake or the king of snakes).

Originally, Nagas were known by the name of a group of villages. The Naga tribes were linked with those of Assam and Myanmar. Christian missionaries have played an important role in transforming Nagaland, leading to many Naga tribes embracing Christianity.

Nagaland borders the state of Assam in the west, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam in the north, Myanmar in the east and Manipur in the south.

gani sekrenyi
Gani Sekrenyi

The Nagas belong to the Indo—Mongoloid family. There are as many as fourteen major Naga tribes which include Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Khemungam, Lotha, Phom, Rengma, Sangtam, Yimchunger and Zeliang.

The Chakhesangs were earlier known as Eastern Angamis and are a combination of Chaki, Khezha and Sangtam sub-tribes. Interestingly, each tribe has its own specific language and culture.

Though there is no caste system prevalent among the Nagas, the Naga tribes are divided into several clans. The bigger the tribe, the higher the number of clans.

The Nagas have different stories about their origin. The Angamis, Semas, Rengams, and the Lothas subscribe to the Kheza-Kenoma legend.

The village where they live, it is rumoured, had once a large stone slab with magical powers and properties. Paddy spread on it for drying was believed to get doubled in quantity by evening.

The three sons of the couple who were sole owners of the stone, used the same by rotation. One day, there was a quarrel among the three brothers on the issue of whose turn it was.

Apprehending bloodshed, the couple set fire to the stone which finally cracked. In its immediate aftermath, the spirit believed to be hiding inside the stone, went to heaven and the stone lost its miraculous powers.

The three sons thereafter, left Kheza-Kenoma, went in different directions and became the forefathers of the Angami, Sema and Lotha tribes.

According to another legend, to which the western Angamis subscribe, the first man evolved from a lake called Themiakelkuzie near Khonoma. They believed that until recently they and Lothas belonged to the same tribe.

The Aos and the Phoms used to trace their origin to Lungterok(six stones) on the Chongliemdi hill where spirits were believed to have been ruling for quite some time.

People of Nagaland are of sub-medium height, with very low facial index, medium nose, straight hair and brownish yellow skin. Their eyes however, do not betray any close Mongolian trait.

The Nagas are hardworking and sturdy people with a strong sense of self—respect. The Angamis are politically most conscious group. The Zeliang and Pochury tribes in Kohima district are comparatively simple and less sophisticated.

However, the Tuensang tribes are unspoilt children of nature.

Sumi Tuluni with Naga Girls

A striking characteristic of the Nagas is their hospitality and cheerfulness. Greetings with a smiling face while travelling on the road, are a very common sight and experience too.

Besides the Tenyidie language which is almost a common language in Nagaland, the people of the state speak 60 different dialects of the Sino—Tibetan family of languages.

A small segment of the population converses in Assamese though, while English, the official state language, is widely spoken.

Also Read: Christmas: From Nagaland, With Love! 

All the tribes of Nagaland have their own festivals and as such, the entire year is replete with festivals. The Nagas celebrate their distinct seasonal festivals with much fanfare.

More than 85 per cent of the population in Nagaland depends on agriculture directly and therefore, most of their festivals revolve around agriculture.

The predominant theme of their festivals is the offering of prayers to the ‘Supreme Being’, hailed by different names in diverse Naga dialects.

Aoeleang, Konyak
Aoeleang, Konyak

They start with the Chakhesang Sukranye festival in January followed by Kuki Mimkut; Angami Sekrenyi is celebrated in February. The month of April begins with Konyak Aoeleang and Phom Monyu festivals in the first week. Many people connect it with the reaping of the harvest.

Ao Moatsu and Khiamniungan Miu festivals are observed in May; Sumi Tuluni and Chang Nkanyulum festivals are celebrated in the month of July.

In the months of August and September, Yimchunger Metemneo and Sangtam Mongmong festivals are observed.  The month of November witnesses the celebration of Lotha Tokhu Emong and Rengma Ngada festivals.

See Also

In December, Zeliing Nga-Ngai festival is celebrated with much pomp and gaiety as it marks the completion of a year and the beginning of the new year.

Sumi Tuluni dance
Dance, Sumi Tuluni

The predominant religion of Nagaland is Christianity as it is one of the three Christian majority states in India. The largest of Asia’s churches dominate the skylines of Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung.

Among the Christians, Baptists are the predominant group, comprising more than 80 per cent of the state’s population. Catholics are found in significant numbers in parts of Wokha district as also in the urban areas of Kohima and Dimapur.

Animal Life

The region bustles with animal life as most parts are covered with forests. The birds found here are white vulture, black patridge, grey patridge, common peafowl, blue rock pigeon, spotted dove, hoopoe, Malabar pied hornbill, common babbler, Mahratta woodpecker, koel, spotted owlet and the great horned owl among others.

As for the animals that are commonly found include wild boar, barking deer, Himalayan black bear, wild goat, jackal, jungle cat, wolf, leopard, wild dog, python, stags, elephant, land tortoise and different varieties of snakes.


(To be continued in our next week edition)


Top Photograph : Ila Reddy



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