Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1870 Konyak ang

Subjectang chief
Culture: Konyak / Eastern Naga
Setting: tribal warfare, Nagaland mid-late 19thc
Object: ornaments


* Welch 1985 p77
"The most striking adornments of Naga warriors are miniature trophy masks symbolic of their prowess as headhunters -- worn singly or in groups of two or more, mounted as pendants or necklaces.  According to Naga belief, the human soul is divided into two parts, known in the Wanchu dialect as yaha (the animated aspect) and mio (the spiritual aspect).  When a Naga dies, the yaha travels to the land of the dead while the mio remains in the village.  Abundant mio is considered beneficial to the prosperity and fertility of the Nagas and their crops, and Nagas zealously preserve the supply of mio in their village. [...]  In the past because Nagas believed that mio resided in the head, the spirit reservoir of the village was augmented by the taking of heads.
​    "Inasmuch as trophy heads represented the village's wealth, they were displayed with pride.  [...]  Miniature replicas of heads ... were similarly imbued with mio, assuring the wearer of health, fertility, prosperity, and success in hunting."

* Vallangi 2014 online
"In the past, both men and women would wear elaborate necklaces and bracelets. Brass faces were used in some of the men’s necklaces to signify the number of enemy heads severed."

* Borel/Taylor 1994 p157
"These ornaments indicate head-taker status... The more head effigies, the greater the wearer's prestige."

* Untracht 1997 p63 f87
"The mouth markings indicate that they were stitched closed to retain the potent spirit of the deceased."




* Broman 2002 p102
"Tattooing is ... a custom of some Naga groups, especially those in the North or East. [...] Tattoos on men were often associated with head-taking.  Among the Konyak Naga, for example, a fully tattooed face and large V-shaped chest tattoo was the mark of a head-taker."

* Jacobs 2012 p112
"As with any other ornament, tattooing serves to make statements about membership of groups and status within groups.  The main method is to hammer the skin with a thorn implement and to rub a blue pigment into the cut.  This is undoubtedly quite painful, and in addition can result in infection; but it is stoically and even willingly undergone because of the high value placed on the resulting patterns.
    "In some cultures, tattooing is a symbol of certain kinds of status that are not achieved by other means.  This is not the case with the Nagas, where it would seem that tattooing, which is confined to certain eastern and northern groups, makes statements which in other communities are made with material ornaments.  The Naga communities which practice tattooing are the Konyak, Ao, Chang, Sangtam, Kalyo Kengyu and Phom.  These groups are geographically close, but do not obviously share any particular sociological features.
    "The most obvious distinction that tattoos can make, depends on a presence/absence opposition.  The Thendu Konyak men tattoo their faces, but not their chests and arms, and the Thenkoh Konyak men do the opposite [CONTRA Arya/Joshi 2004 p70].  Because tattooing is permanent, the distinction enables a very strong statement of difference to be made between the two Konyak groups.  In the case of the Sangtam, women have tattoos (on the calf and arm), and men not at all; for Konyak girls, the presence or absence of a tattoo on the back of the knee, signifies married or unmarried status.  In all three cases, a distinction si being made by means of presence or absence (Thendu/Thenkoh, male/female, and married/unmarried).  But these distinctions are made by other groups just as effectively (with, say, ornaments, or woven cloths), and tattooing should be seen simply as one more way to make these kinds of statements.  Although apparently more 'permanent' than ornaments, there is evidence that over time changes in the use of tattoos do occur.  Ao men, for instance, used to tattoo, but no longer do so."

* Vallangi 2014 online
"From the tribe’s conception centuries ago, until the gruesome practice was banned in 1940s, the Konyaks were fierce headhunters. Killing and severing an enemy’s head was considered a rite of passage for young boys, and success was rewarded with a prestigious facial tattoo."

* Arya/Joshi 2004 p70
"Facial tattoos are marks of a head-taker, the various designs indicating the person's prowess in battle and the number of heads he has taken.  The origin of tattooing is obscure.  One theory is that it establishes tribal identity and enables recognition after death in a raid or a fatal accident.  The Konyak are divided into the Thendu, lower Konyak and the Thenko, upper Konyak.  The Thendu (also known as Thenthu), tattoo their faces and bodies while the Thenko decorate their bodies but not their faces [CONTRA Jacobs 2012 p112].  Christians do not tattoo themselves.  The Thendu are governed by the Ang while the Thenko, like the Ao and Angami, are governed by councils of village elders."

* Stirn/van Ham 2003 p164
"Because of the pain associated with tattooing, the Naga regard a tattoo as a sign of strength, courage, and virility.  A tattoo also lends a person an aura of dangerousness.  Facial tattoos, as are common among Konyak and Wancho men, used to be applied by bachelors going on their first headhunting raid; like warpaint they endow their wearer with a fierce mask-like appearance.  Given the background knowledge of how such tattoos are earned, namely, by demonstrating one's headhunting prowess, this impression is yet further enhanced."

* Glancey 2011 p91
"To the British, the practice [of headhunting] was abhorrent, but to the Nagas it was more than a way of life.  A captured head was a source of good luck and fertility; the more heads on display in a village, the more prosperous that village would be.  And for a youth, he could only prove himself to be a fully fledged warrior, a real man, when he had taken his first head.  Then he would have his body tattooed and his chance to wow the girls."

* van Ham/Saul 2008 p277
"Among the elder generation (successful headhunters) the typical distinguishing marks are the facial ('spectacle') tattoos and the artistic neck and chest tattoos. The name 'Konyak' derives from khau 'head' and nyak 'black', referring to the Konyak customs of tattooing their faces and blackening their teeth with soot."