Ceremonial necklace "Nāga"

240 €

Nāga people, Nāgaland, India/Myanmar, 20th century, private collection from Netherlands.

Nāga, group of tribes inhabiting the Nāga Hills of Nāgaland state in northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar. The groups, by some counts over 66, have similar cultures and traditions, and form the majority of population in the Indian state of Nagaland and Naga Sel-Administered Zone of Myanmar, with significant populations in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India, Sagaing Division and Kachin State in Myanmar. Nāgas are divided into sixteen main tribal groups, each with its own name and distinct language, but their sense of national identity, forged during the years of British administration and reinforced by resistance to Indian government domination, now largely overrides the diffrences that separate them. The major 16 groups include the: Konyak Nāgas, Āo Nāgas, Zeme (Sema) Nāgas, Phom Nāgas, Chang Nāgas, Rongmei Nāgas, Angāmi Nāgas, and Maring Nāgas.

The British first came into contact with Nāgas when they took over Assam and the Bharmaputra valley in the 1820's and moved into the hill areas to stop Naga raids, especially from the Angāmi tribe. In 1832 British attempted to annex the Nāga areas but met fierce resistance from Nāga guerilla groups, particularly from the Angāmi tribe. The British sent ten military expeditions into Nāga-controlled lands between 1835 and 1851. The resistance continued. In 1879 the Angāmi staged a number of raids on British positions. The British responded by burning Angāmi villages and were ultimately able to bring the Angāmi region under their control. After this the British gradually took over the whole area. Missionaries converted many Nāgas to Christianity, and this facilitated literacy and the use of English, all of which encouraged a Nāga sense of separate identity. The British put an end to headhunting and inter-village raids, and the Nāga settled down to a more peaceful life of cultivation and trade.

The Nāgas have never considered themselves part of India. On August 14, 1947, one day before India and Pakistan gained independence, Nāga leaders in the Nāga National Council (NNC) declared their independence over a chunk of land in far northeast India that became known as Nāgaland. Even so India asserted authority over the small state. India assimilated Nāgaland in 1952, The Nāgas responded by boycotting India-imposed elections. An armed struggle began in 1955. Some 4,000 Indian troops were called into area to put down the uprising. Violence continued. Beginning in 1975, Nāgaland was ruled under "presidential rule"  by the Indian government. The Nāgas never agreed to join India, and they have been fighting for independence ever since, with both China and Pakistan reportedly at various times supplying the Nāgas with arms.

The Nāga are very attached to their land, family, clan, and village quarter (khel). A village is made up of several khels. The settlements have traditionally been established at elevations between 900 and 1200 meters on hilltops that could be defended from neighboring tribes. Traditionally, Nāga villages have been surmounted by terraced fields. Shifting cultivation (jhūm) is commonly practised. Staple crops are rice (autumn and winter), small millet, edible seeds, sugarcane, potatoes, and tobacco. Some Nāga tribes are almost exclusively farmers. Others also raise animals, hunt and fish. Most Nāga villages also contain a men's ceremonial house or dormitory (morung). Women hold a high and honourable position in Nāga society, work on equal terms with men in the fields, and wield influence in tribal councils. Nāga society revolves around patrilinear clans (thino) and kindred (putsa). Clan loyalty is generally more important than loyalties to other groups, even khels. Nāgas traditionally are tribally organized, with a strong warrior tradition. Conflict between tribes, clans and villages was common in the old days and headhunting was a feature of warfare. The traditional weapons of warfare were spears and shields. Headhunting and warfare was common into the early 20th century. The last reports of headhunting in Indian Nāgaland were in 1960's.

The traditional Nāga religion is animistic, though conceptions of a supreme creator and an afterlife exist. Traditional beliefs in spirits, local deities and supernatural forces associated with life events remain strong even among tribes that have adopted Christianity. Spirits are associated with both animate and inanimate objects and most are regarded as either gods or souls of deceased people. Rather that being divided into good and bad spirits, individual spirits are regarded as having good and bad qualities. Important Angāmi gods include the creator god (Kenopfu), the giver of sudden death (Rutzeh), god of fruitfulness (Maweno), the mischievous god (Telepfu), husband and wife dwarf gods (Tsuko & Dzurawu), and god of tigers (Tekhu-rho). An individual tribe will often have several different religious practitioners. Among Angāmi are the leader of public ceremonies and keeper of historical and clan information (kemovo), healer magician (zhevo), an elder who presides of agricultural rituals (tsakro), diviners with special knowledge about poisons (themuna), sorcerers (kihupfuma), and women who predict future based on information from their dreams (terhope). The status of these practitioners is often arranged in a hierarchy. Angāmi magic-religion ceremonies are called "gennas". Important ones are held 11 times a year. They are linked with the agricultural calender and are ranged for intertribal and interclan meetings, war dances, headhunting, rainmaking, hunting etc. Family gennas are performed to mark births, marriages and deaths. Gennas generally involve animal sacrifices, offering of flesh to the spirits, wearing of ceremonial garments, singing, dancing etc.

Weaving of colorful woolen and cotton shawls and bamboo headdresses is a central activity for woman of all Nāga tribes. Design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer. Elaborate headdresses are made of bear fur, feathers, the tusks of wild boar and tufts of human hair. Naga jewelry is an equally important part of indentity and the use of wide range of materials including funnel-shaped beads, shell, bone, claws, teeths and tusks, horns, hair etc.

Stunning ceremonial necklace with several yak (Bos grunniens) tooth and various colourful glassbeads. Good condition. Age-related wear and handling over many years. Lovely patina. String are newer. Fractures and cracks. Dirt, dust and soil. Circumference are approx. 89,0cm. Individual tooth size are c. 4,7cm x 1,4cm.

References, citations and sources:

Nagas, East and Southeast Asia, Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Edited Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company.

The Burma Naga, Pablo Bartholomew, Visa pour l'image, Association Visa pour l'image - Perpignan, 2021.

Certain Aspects of Naga Culture, J.P. Mills, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 56 (1926), pp. 27-35.

Nagas: Their History, Life and Customs, Facts and Details.com, August 2020.

Nagas, Minority Right Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples, 2021.