A brief note on the Naga people

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The Naga people (pronounced [naːgaː]) are an ethnic group conglomerating of several tribes native to the North Eastern part of India and north-western Myanmar (Burma). The tribes have similar cultures and traditions, and form the majority ethnic group in the Indian state of Nagaland, with significant population in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and in Assam. The Nagas speak various distinct Tibeto-Burman languages.

As would be expected there remained certain fascination on the question of the origin of the Nagas within the context of the search for a universal history of mankind, its origins, evolution, migrations and so forth. Also a deep interest exists, of the outside world, to know about the Naga people and their culture.

Historians and researchers, who have studied this question, will say that Naga origin stories have two aspects—one is essentially mythological and the other describes in detail actual movements of people in the Naga Hills and from all directions.

It would seem that the only conclusion is the one drawn by Hutton that the present sociological make-up of the Nagas is ‘mixed’ and so is their pre-historic origin, there being no unique origin for any of the tribes separately or for the Nagas as a whole…

As stated in the book ‘The Nagas’ published by Thames and Hudson, “No single people are the ancestors of the Nagas, nor did the Naga amalgamation of customs and beliefs arrive en bloc…the present arrangement has most probably been created by the interaction of the Naga groups in their present location: interaction with other Nagas, with non-Nagas, with their environment”.


The Nagas are quintessentially a hill people.

Physically, the Nagas are predominantly Mongoloid. That is to say, they have the straight black hair, black eyes, epicanthic eye-fold and other features of the huge spread of Mongoloid peoples, who now inhabit areas as diverse as China and Amazonia.

From the early days of contact with the Nagas in the 1830s, Europeans struggled to make sense of the ethnographic chaos they perceived around them: hundreds, if not thousands, of small villages seemed to be somewhat similar to each other but also very different, by no means always sharing the same customs, political system, art or even language.


The morung, or youth’s dormitory, is typically a huge building which physically dominates a Naga village, resplendent with carvings representing hornbills, tigers, mithun (bison) and human heads and sometimes with projecting barge-boards resembling wings or horns. Sociologically it is a key institution of Naga society, though its importance varies between the different groups.

A Naga village is typically divided into two or more geographical areas called ‘khels’, and in each khel there are one or more morungs. Each khel and its morung will contain members of one or more clans.

The morung fulfils various functions. It is a sleeping place for the young un-married men and in former raiding days it served as a guard house for the warriors. It is in some senses a school, since young people learn about social practices and belief from their elders. Although typically it is a male institution, in some communities a counterpart exists for girls too.


The use of the land underlies all other aspects of Naga society. That is to say, not only must the land be worked to produce basic subsistence food for the people, but the ladder to social prestige can only be climbed by individuals accumulating sufficient surplus to afford the lavish sacrifices and feasts involved. Wealth is also sought in order to make a good marriage or a political alliance.


Naga social organization is made up of cross-cutting group ties. That is, the individual and the household are in very few senses autonomous, but are integrated into the society, by being members of larger functional units: lineages, clans, age-groups, classes, morungs and villages. The individual experiences these ties sometimes as complementary and sometimes in tension with each other.

          Extract from wikipedia and the book The Nagas, Published by Thames and Hudson

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