Prakash Jha

‎A Tete-A-Tete With The Headhunters Of Longwa‬

Headhunters? Frightening? Human Skulls hanging freely at the entrance of the house? Tattoo smeared faces? A house wherein people dine in Myanmar and sleep in India? A village where people actually hold dual citizenship? Sounds intriguing? Well, it certainly was!


Hang on! There was more to come. A frightening memorable greet from a Gunman with his gun pointing towards me as I got out of the shared cab after almost 8 hours of an adventurous ride covering 100 kms through boulders, muddy stretches, slippery turns, wooden shaky bridges and untamed forests. His angry utterance in the Nagamese dialect (which I couldn’t understand) was sufficient enough to force me to raise my arms in the air, surrender duly and follow him onto a dark room in the Angh (Village Chief)’s house over the ridge. The room had five people smoking opium around a bonfire. An old tattoo smeared face adorned with a skull necklace containing five brass faces raised his eye lashes with a sort of an inquiring look at me. I folded both of my hands and bowed onto him with a smile. Next, opened my bag and gifted a Gamucha (a white shawl) which he duly accepted with gratitude. Post this, I showed him some of the mobile photos of my solo Pan India sojourn, signaled him for a click together and got it done. As I bade goodbye, he gifted me with a Tamul (Betel leaves filled with pieces of Nuts). Whilst I started to return back, the gunman escorted me upto the cab and helped me to get a seat inside.

Well, the most interesting part was that, this silent local encounter happened through sign language. What I could speak and understand(Hindi and English), they couldn’t and vice-versa. But even more memorable was the fact which I came to know later on – ‘The Headhunter spares someone’s head only if he has gifted something or has had something from his house’. And I couldn’t thank the the almighty more for my sheer good luck of not just gifting him a Gamucha but also accepting Tamul from him! Probably, that saved the day for me!

PS: This happened at Longwa Village (Mon District, Nagaland, India) – home to the Konyak Tribe, popularly called as the ‘Headhunters’. Their faces are smeared with tattoos and the neck adorned with skull brass necklaces. Often the entrance of their houses are decorated with human skull – the one who has the maximum no of skulls is considered to be the most powerful and made the village chieftain (Angh). The Angh’s house straddles across two countries – Kitchen is in Myanmar and Bed Room in India! There is no semblance of electricity or mobile or any modern gadgets or achitecture out here. The people out here can speak or understand only speak Nagamese (mix of Assamese and Naga) dialect. Hence, one has to use sign language to communicate. And yes, the village has a namesake police station with almost no law and order so if something untoward happens, to trace would be next to impossible !

In the picture, from left to right – Gunman, Assistant, Angh and myself – this picture was snapped by most of the newspapers whilst covering my India Trail 🙂


Prakash Jha


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