Thursday, February 18, 2016

North Eastern Odyssey 5 - Mon (contd.)

Early morning we headed out to Longwa near the Myanmar (Burmese) border. Our guide, Anyang, a Konyak himself, gave us a pretty detailed idea of life in these hills. The Konyak tribe has settled in the villages around Mon, the last known tribes to have headhunted in these parts. Hence, they have sort of a celebrity status among tourists visiting Nagaland.

At Longwa, there exists a porous border between Myanmar and India. There are border patrols and bases, but they aren't as intimidating or fenced and armed as in other parts of India. Here, the border is an invisible line that cuts right in the middle of the Ang's (chieftain) house (so the claim goes). He is head of over 500+ households in that area. One half of his house and a part of the village sits in Myanmar and the other in India. Some of the villages in his territory as Ang lie on the Myanmar side of the border.

The Ang's house in Longwa village through which
runs the international boundary between India & Myanmar

On our side the hills are almost bereft of any vegetation with villages dotted here and there on the hillsides while on the Myanmar side it is lush with thick jungles. A short distance from Longwa, there is a marker indicating border post 154 in both Hindi and Burmese. 

The Myanmar side of the border with thick forests

The Indian side of the border bereft of forests

The border post marking the international
boundary that runs through Longwa

The Ang's house was the largest structure in the village and maintained in the traditional way as much as possible i.e. the rooms were all partitioned off with bamboo walls and wooden beams. 

The traditional interiors of the
Ang's house

The Ang was sitting with some of his clansmen in a room that was decorated with old artefacts - monkey head bags, carved benches, headhunter necklaces etc. The Ang, wore coloured beads on his legs, below the knees, a privilege accorded only to him. Most of the men were smoking and in the haze filled room everything appeared surreal. If it wasn't for the guide and the more modern clothes everyone wore, I could have easily imagined I had time-travelled. Our guide gave the Ang a 'gift' (in kind) which every visitor is expected to make and he happily posed for pictures and allowed us to wander around. The men seemed too lethargic to talk except for asking the guide, "What two women were doing in these parts by themselves?" and "Are they Indians?" 

These questions we had got quite used to as the only tourists they were used to seeing this far were foreigners - fair skinned, non-black hair, different accents etc. The only Indians who travel this far are usually government officials, sometimes the odd journalist and  adventurous male visitor. Everywhere we went, we could only laugh this curiosity off, explaining was beyond us. 

One of the many curiosities inside the Ang's house

Carved benches & bedsteads

The Ang of the Konyak tribe who have settled
in & around Longwa village

Interestingly, the Ang has seven wives and many children. But, we did not see a single woman from his household though we could hear them now and then. Polygamy and head-hunting have both died out now that the Nagas have become Christians. Though, they manage to straddle their animism traditions along with Christianity without losing much sleep over it. 

Longwa village with the Ang's house (far right),
with the 
thatched roof

The village for all its remoteness, had some touristy stuff going on. They had a small market set up where they were selling hand carved wooden artefacts, beaded jewellery and other items. In a way it was a little depressing as much of the objects being sold were going for a songThe market is not likely to die down as it's a huge hit among the visitors who buy souvenirs for home. 

The tribespeople are not poor as they are self-sufficient and seem to have more than enough to keep body and soul together. If you cut out the romanticism, what they required in Longwa, was nothing that money could buy - access to good quality schools, healthcare and public utilities. This is only possible if the government put its mind and will to it. But I suppose like in all border areas, this becomes one among a long list of neglected villages. 

The mini-market of artefacts set up in the village

The Konyaks are good carvers of wood and workers of metal. We saw little children carrying machetes and other weaponry used to kills small birds and animals. After spending a few hours, we headed back to the guesthouse for lunch.

In the afternoon, we left for another village, this time closer to town. This village was also called Mon. Here, the old men were tattooed, an ancient warrior rite and some wore necklaces to represent the heads they had taken in their lifetimes. They had large curved spikes in their ears made of mountain goat horns. I can only imagine how fierce and terror-inducing they must have been in their heydays as warriors in these hills. 

The Ang here is chieftain over a 100+ households and his territory is all on the Indian side. We met the Ang in his old house which has become a sort of meeting place for him and his friends. Right next to it there is a more modern, concrete house for his two wives and many children. 

The Ang (far right) recognisable due to the beaded
strings below his knees, with his friends in his home

We were taken to the Morung in the village. In the old days, the boys who were of age (to become warriors) were all gathered here and tutored over many weeks and months in the customs and traditions of the tribe, in wielding weapons and in fighting. Today, the morung is used as a meeting place for the village and the boys are still taught tradition and lore but no one stays there and certainly no fighting is taught. 

The old men we met were nostalgic of their days as headhunters when they were young and strong and were feared. With old traditions ended or lost, they seemed unable to figure out their place in this new world. Here too, they were smoking. And of course, chewing betel nut, a constant with both men and women especially if their stained teeth and red lips are anything to go by. Apparently, it keeps them alert and energised. So they say. :) 

The men gathered in the Morung in the evening

An old warrior (tattoos on his face represent his status)
was happy to pose outside the Morung, in front of
the many Mithun heads

The men started singing a folk song, with a sort of chanting, haunting melody. We couldn't understand any of it but it added to the sense of nostalgia in the fading daylight. As we left the morung, they moved on from one song to the other, hopeful that the younger generation would pick up where they left off. 

In Mon village too, we did not see any women outside. Only the men were around and a few children who were quite fascinated by the (Indian-looking) foreigners visiting the village. After the fantastic day we had spent in Mon we headed back to the guesthouse. We left early the next day to Mokokchung. 


  1. Very interesting to know about them. I wish you split to smaller posts.
    Couldn't read the whole thing.

    1. Thanks, Indrani, for the feedback. This series has been long-ish, true. Will try & restrict length in future. :)