THE TRADITION OF HEAD HUNTING IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH

head hunters
head collection

 

 

THE TRADITION OF HEAD HUNTING IN ARUNACHAL PRADESH

The Noctes and the Wanchos, who inhibit the Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh, are related to the Naga tribes to their southwest and, therefore, their religious faiths and beliefs have close association with the Naga religion that has been termed as ‘Animism’. Both these tribes, in the past had a strong tradition of ‘head-hunting’. Though the practice of head-hunting was not purely a religious practice, yet it carried behind it the religious sanctions and was undertaken only after divination. Belief in the magical powers of human heads, particularly in connection with the fertility cult, was one of the main reason behind this practice.

There are different stories regarding the origin of head-hunting amongst the both tribes. One thing is certain that the basic reason behind the custom of head-hunting was the internal feuds due to various reasons. It is also held by some writers that the custom of head-hunting originated amongst the Noctes and later on spread to the Wanchos. Amongst the Noctes, the most common practice of head-hunting was to raid a village stealthily or by ambushing. There were also incidents of one village challenging the other. Surprise raids were conducted by leaders selected from amongst the experienced head-hunters. Omen were taken by the village priest to foresee the outcome, and the expedition started only if they were favorable. After returning from a successful raid, the head-hunters indulge in dancing and singing. The heads were collected in one place and the priest mixed powdered rice and egg and sprinkled the mixture over heads to calm down the spirits of the dead person. These heads were then hung from tree. The head-hunters got themselves tattooed; KHOTANG festival was then celebrated in which the heads were boiled, cleaned and put together in one place. The head-hunters danced around the heads and a share of the community feast was offered to these heads. After khotang festival was over, the heads were put to rest in the Morung.

The Wanchos also undertook the head-hunting raids in the past and human head formed the central motif of their traditional wood carving. In addition to the expression of their manliness and power. There were some other reasons too for this custom. Head-hunting expeditions were resorted to some times for more real cause such as encroachment on others territory and refusal to pay compensation by the poachers when detected. There was then, ofcourse, the belief in the magical efficacy of human head  because it was believed to increase the yield of cultivated land. Generally, the causes for head-hunting arose between the two chiefs and their subjects automatically got involved in it. The expedition was undertaken when the prediction was favorable. During expedition, head were taken indiscriminately, but under no circumstances, a commoner could take the head of a chief. The exception to this rule was punished heavily. After the heads were brought to the village, the flesh was allowed to decompose with boiling water and preserved in the morungs or a house specially constructed for the purpose near the house of the chief, which was called PONU. A ceremony was held after five days of bringing the heads to the village in which the head-hunters were tattoed on different parts of the body. The festival which was celebrated after harvesting was called GANTANG in which, just like the Noctes, the heads were offered rice-beer and pieces of ginger.

As long as social position depends on tattooing, and can only be got by bringing the head of an enemy, so long shall they have these wars and consequent isolation of clans. The man who brings in a head is no longer called a boy or a woman, and can assist in councils of state. The head he brings is handed to the chief, who confers the AK, or right of decoration by tattoo, at which there are great feastings, and pigs, coes or even buffaloes are killed and no end of rice-beer is drunk. The front of chief’s house, as well as inside it, are numerous trophies of the chase and memorials of feasts, and in a separate house(ponu), dedicated to the collection, memorials of ferocity and vengeance-human skulls arranged in shelves like boolks, the records of recent achievements, and basket full of fragments of skulls, the memorials of the bloody deeds of their forefathers.

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2 Responses

  1. Found very interesting…
    want to read more detailed articles regarding Head Hunters of Arunachal.
    Would like to know if any practices happen in thes days too…??
    Is only Nocte n Wancho tribes practice head hunting or Is there any other tribe too..??

    • The tribes of Tutsa and Olo of tirap district of arunachal Pradesh also practice headhunting BT this practice doesn’t exist now a days,,

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