Konyak Tribe Essay, Research Paper
The Konyak Nagas
The Konyak Nagas, Indian tribes living in the northeast frontier of India are an interesting culture to research. They were considered in the 1930s as a culture still daily living as they did in ancient days yet by 1947 the government of India took effective steps to bring them under its administrative control. The tribes are separated into several villages such as the Sangtam, Chang, Kaylo Kengyu, Angami, Konyak and the Wakching Nagas. The villages differed in language, political structure, and some aspects of material culture. Even though governing officials have interrupted the traditional ways of life of the Naga tribes, there are some things that have not changed. Within the Wakching village their houses, appearance, language, religious beliefs and interpersonal relationships have been carried down from ancient times.
The Wakching village occupied a high point of abroad and uneven ridge in the Naga Hills district. With 249 Houses and a population of about 1300 inhabitants, it was the largest village within a radius of ten miles. Its size and strategic position secured it against the attacks of hostile neighbors. The houses were usually grouped together in a compact block and enclosed with a fence or they were scattered over the site in several areas with vegetable plots and bamboo groves around them. Structurally, the Konyak houses were of two types, one of the open front and high roof points and those of closed fronts whose roofs hung low over a front porch. The men s houses were largest in size eighty four feet long and thirty-six feet wide. The roof was made out of thick thatched palm leaves and at the sides the branches nearly touched the ground. Leaf bundles, flat decorated stick and small carvings of birds were hung from the front ends of the roof rafters, so they formed a curtain which gave the porch shade from the sun. The porch was about twenty-four feet deep. Benchs were made for working upon and sitting at. While walking through the four feet wide entrance way one would have to step over a low bamboo barrier, placed in the doorway to keep out stray animals. Stepping into a sixteen-foot wide, seven foot in length porch. To the right a wooden door opened up to a corridor like hall, which occupied the entire length of the house. Within this room was a rice-pounding table that was about ten feet long. Then one moved into the living room where the family lived and did most of their cooking in. The families slept in bamboo bunks usually the father with two children and the mother with two children. Baskets, fishing nets and farming tools were hung up on the walls. Spears stood in the corners and dao, were stuck in the matting walls. Utensils used in the preparation of food, cooking pots, pounding pestles, wooden ladles and dishes were grouped within reach of the cooking area. All items that were used daily were packed up in woven waterproof cane baskets and closed with lids. The only source of light was a small door in the wall of the living room. At the back of the house the hall widened into a utility room, which was the entire length of the house. Here the drying of rice and taro, an Indonesian root crop, took place. Also the cutting up of animals for food preparation and the entertaining of guests happened within this room. Finally, the back door lead out to a veranda about fifteen by twenty feet, half of it was covered with a roof and half open to the sky where the drying of washed clothes could hang. The bathroom area was located on the veranda sheltered from view with palm leaves and the waste in which fell to the ground was eaten by pigs roaming among the piles.
The people of the Wakching tribe were very physically attracted in appearance and wore the most splendid of colorful ornaments. Men and women were of slender build and delicate bone structure and well-maintained their youthfulness in to their middle-ages. They have light to medium brown skin tone and dark brown or black colored eyes.
Young men and women were well groomed, their bronze skin clean and their black hair nicely combed, often with fresh flowers stuck in an earlobe or hair knot. Men and half-grown boys seldom wore more than a tight belt and a small apron, only covering their private parts but still some were seen gossiping in the villages as late as 1962, with no aprons on. Men s belts were made of several coils of cane or of broad strips of bark, with long ends that hung down over the buttocks like a tail. During ceremonial occasions the men wear splendid attire depending on their achievements in the field of headhunting. While at the time of the annual spring festival all males, from small boys to white-haired grandfathers, wore some sort of headgear, only head-takers were entitled to the more magnificent headdresses. Most common were conical hats made of red cane and yellow orchid stalks, crested with red goat s hair and topped with a few tail feathers of the great Indian hornbill. Head-takers garnished such hats with flat horns carved from buffalo horn and tassels made of human hair. Boar s tusks, monkey skulls and hornbill beaks were other favored ornaments. Both men and women wore arm rings and neck ornaments of many different shapes and materials.
The women and girls wore narrow, oblong pieces of cloth wrapped around their waist, with one corner tucked in over the left hip. These skirts were about ten inches wide and covered the body areas, which were required by the tribe to attain decency. A woman never took off her skirt in the presence of men, not even when bathing or fishing. Unmarried girls usually wore plain white or blue skirts, but married women preferred skirts with red and white stripes. A young girl with developed breasts and pubic hair could be seen walking around the village nude. Due to women s skirt covering only their private parts, when they would have menstrual blood appear on their thighs, they felt no embarrassment. In ceremonial celebrations a women s attire varied depending on her social status. A girl or woman of pure chiefly blood had the right to wear red and white striped skirts decorated with embroidery, glass beads, and tassels of dyed goat s hair. Women of minor chiefly clan were entitled to similar skirts, but to no decorative tassels. Commoners wore skirts of darker color, usually blue with no ornaments. All of these skirts were woven of cotton, and patterns varied slightly from village to village.
The Konyak Nagas language is a Tibeto-Burman tonal launguage of which not even a simple word list was known. Though some cultural anthropologists managed to compile a vocabulary and a large number of texts, their research did not allow them to take part in a serious conversation. Fortunately for them, many people within the village, including some children, spoke fluent Naga-Assamese, the lingua franca of the Naga Hills region. In other villages translators and the fluent language of Naga-Assamese, was not helpful and no communication was possible.
In the mind of the Konyak the world was made up of not only visual objects and creatures but also of the multitude of invisible beings and forces. They believed that these entities were capable of influencing the fate of humans. When life was flowing smoothly the tribes paid little or no attention to these invisible beings but if sickness arouse or other misfortunes struck he would suspect the activity of a menacing spirit and search for ways to help correct the problem. When someone died the Naga tribes believed the soul yaha , to which a large portion of the individual s personality was attached, set out on a lengthy journey to Yimbu, the land of the dead. The gate to Yimbu was guarded by Doloba, a powerful guardian of the nether world, who questioned the yaha before allowing it to enter. They also believed the headhunting was for the benefit of the living. The practice of acquiring heads of strangers, either by capture of by slaughter of human victims by purchase from another. They believed that the power came from the flow of human blood. The main aim of raiding another village was to capture heads. There was the definite belief that their presence enhanced the fertility and prosperity of the village. The sex and status of the victims was of little importance. In 1937 head hunting was not permitted in Konyak s and the other villages under British government, but it was still practiced in some areas. The final main subject of the Naga Indian Tribes was The Cult of the Sky. The one deity who stood above all the others and may well is described as dominating the Konyak s religious ideas. The name Gawang means Earth-Sky, and is seen as having existed before all other beings and things. It was he who created the earth, sky and all its inhabitants and who causes the thunder to roll and the lightening to flash. When lightening hit a tree near a village the oldest men sacrificed a chicken and begged Gawang not to harm the people. They also believed that he resembled a man but of immense size. At most major events of a Konyak s life Gawang was acknowledged. Many prayers were directed to Gawang to bring about blessings in the individuals life being honored. As a rule their prayers had to be brief and simple. During a wedding ceremony the father of the bride would sacrifice a chicken and say, Gawang, look upon us kindly and grant us your favor.
In marriage relationships of the Konyak s Nagas a boy might have slept with the same girl for many months, with no legal obligations resulting from their relationship until the performance of a wedding ceremony that gave social recognition to a couple s union. Not social or economic obligations by the families of bride and groom constited the basis of marriage. The slaughter of fouls was customary in the preparations of a wedding ceremony. After the wedding the groom gave to the brides father s younger brother a bundle of spears to be distributed among the young men of the bride s clan. When all guests had gathered, the groom s parents served the bride with rice and rice beer. After she had eaten, the other guests were offered rice beer and betel, but no solid food. Then several months after the marriage ceremony the young wife went to her husband s house to have her legs and knees tattooed with the pattern appropriate to married women. An elderly woman of chiefly status performed this painful operation with the assistance of several girls of the young wife s birthing clan, one of whom stayed with the patient for the night tending to her tattoo wounds. Neither the husband or any other man was allowed to be present, but after sunset young girls of the husband s clan gathered to eat and chant songs. Next day the young wife, whose knees and legs were still sore, was carried home by her father s brother, a service for which the young husband gave him two sides of bacon. Now wearing the tattoos of married women she still did not go to live with her husband. Most marriages, which survived this period of living apart, had an intimate relationship before they married. In a Konyak marriage the husband s duties consisted of the maintenance of the house, gardens and to provide or replace the furnishings. He produced or purchased all wooden and metal tools and baskets required for a household. The wife had specific duties also she did the cooking and sewed all clothing. The man was busy with the growing and storing of rice and the woman was responsible for the planting, harvesting, and drying of taro. When having a child the wife has a natal clan who help her deliver her baby and clean up the birth area.
After reading about the Konyak Nagas tribes from northeast India I was fascinated with their means of everyday survival. Even though they did not have a corner grocery store to rely upon for their food supply. They are well-nourished people simple by working together in the fields in the cultivation of rice and taro. I also was very intrigued by the similarity of my own religious beliefs compared to that of the Konyak s. I believe in God and they believe in Gawang, both believing in a higher deity. I pray to God daily and ask for blessing on my family and they too pray in this similar way asking for similar blessings. I even try my best to keep my prayers simple and pray from my heart and the Konyak s are ordered to keep their prayers simple. I really enjoyed learning about this culture. Imagining the Konyak s seeing their daily activities as a normal part of life has opened up my eyes to a new and wonderful understanding of acceptance of different cultures that I ignorantly thought to be strange. Thank you Dr. Forster for enlightening me to become more sensitive to other cultures and not judging them based on their appearance. Gaining understanding and accepting the fact we are all here on earth to survive in our own natural habitat no matter how we accomplish that goal is normal to each of us and should be respected by others.