The End Of The Tattooed Headhunters

Lemcia Wang
Lemcia Wang
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Tattoos and headhunters, needles and warriors; was that enough to bring shivers down your spine?

Let me take you to the hills of Mon district, the land of the last tattooed headhunters in the world today. The art of tattooing a picture or a sign is common to everyone, but for the Konyaks, there is a wider concept to the art of tattooing. In the Konyak tribe, the practise of tattooing every part of the body that the needle could cover was passed on from generation to generation.

Tattooing holds a deep meaning in the Konyak tribe. It is a form of identification to distinguish the youth from the older men, the married women from the unmarried, a common man from a warrior and other social categories. For each social group and gender, tattooing symbolises a different meaning. It represented their headhunting achievements for the young boys and men. We, the konyaks, are known for our rare and unique talent of tattooing the entire body among the other tribes of Nagaland. Animal motifs and patterns are tattooed on the skin. For most Konyak women, it is common to find their chin lined with tattoos. The Konyaks take great pride in displaying their tattoos alongside their headhunting achievements.

However, for women and girls, the different patterns on their bodies signified the circle of life. Despite the differences between both sexes, the common belief that only people with tattoo marks were ensured a safe passage to life brought out a spirit of unity that bound them together.

While the Anghs and their men were engaged in headhunting, the Anghya (chief's wife) only practised tattooing. Tattooing was passed from mother to daughter. However, there were male tattoo artists as well who specialised in tattooing the most powerful but rare'shahnyu' (tiger) on the backs of the chiefs of the village.

A number of questions arise as we talk about the tattooed headhunters, but the most asked and famous of them all is "Are There Any Tattooed Headhunters Left Today"?

If you go to Mon, you will find a small population of tattooed men and women, headhunters to be precise, filled with tattoos from the tip of their faces all the way down to their feet.

However, the practise of tattooing diminished with the coming of Christianity. Therefore, this is the last of the tattooed headhunters today. Tattoos have various different definitions and meanings all over the world. Some believe that it is against certain religious beliefs. Even though the practise of tattooing has been limited, it is still practised by konyaks to relive their culture with respect to their ancestors.