10/5/2010 to 10/7/2010 | India , Nagaland

Shianghawamsa, Nagaland: Life in a Konyak village

One of the reasons I had returned to Nagaland was to visit some of the more remote villages along the Nagaland-Myanmar (Burma) border.  One of Phejin’s cousins had married a man from Shianghawamsa, a relatively remote village close to this northeastern border.  We accompanied the cousin’s sister, still living in Shiyong, on a visit to the village.  In the district capital of Mon we would change transportation boarding the village owned jeep on the return leg of its daily shopping trip to the “metropolis” of Mon.  While waiting for the departure I was intercepted by a member of the Indian Intelligence Police.   His initial indignant tone turned much more polite after Phejin dropped names of VIP relatives and friends, such is India.  My papers were in order, and after obtaining photo copies my permit, passport, and visa, convinced I was not a 6 foot 3 fair skinned foreign spy sent by an incompetent handler to blend in with the local population and hatch some nefarious scheme, I was allowed to continue on my way.

Shianghawamsa’s jeep looked like it had been abandon by the British while driving the Japanese from the region in World War II, and subsequently used by the villagers of Shianghawamsa every day since.  Parts of the jeep were literally held together with rope.  Still the driver managed to look perplexed as he stared at the engine during an unscheduled roadside stop somewhere between Mon and Shianghawamsa, no doubt wondering how such a fine piece of automotive machinery could have any mechanical problems.  Despite appearances that suggested the contrary, the jeep got us to our destination and we were hospitably received by Phejin’s cousin and her husband. We stayed with their family in a traditionally built, beautifully constructed long house, set on the hillside with a spectacular view over the Naga Hills to the west.  Though inside the house, one was oblivious to the scenery outside.   The absence of electricity and few windows in the bamboo woven walls meant it was perpetually dark inside the house, a condition Phejin and her cousin from Shiyong would tease our host about.  However, the source of most amusement was the toilet.

I had finished my large evening meal of rice and boiled meat, and my digestive track had made it known that it was now time to make some room for the food that was working its way through my system.   I asked to be shown where the toilet was.  I was taken outside near a bamboo constructed cage which held the family pigs, and was left to do my business.  Perplexed I took it to mean there was no toilet and to pretty much go anywhere in this area, so I squatted down near some bushes by the pen and did my business.  I only later would find out that the pig pen was the toilet.  I was supposed to have squatted on the bamboo platform above the pigs that would subsequently play the role of the flush.  In case you’re wondering I still eat pork, but I might think twice about eating it in Shianghawamsa.

Shianhawamsa as well as the larger neighboring village of Shianghachingnyu were beautifully set villages.  The traditional bamboo constructed long houses dotted the green hillsides.  We made our rounds in the village calling upon one Apu (Grandfather) wearing the traditional face tattoo of a Konyak warrior.  He reminisced about days before Christianity came to the region in the early 20th century.  As a boy he had visited Phejin’s Great Grandfather’s house in Shiyong with his father. Their village had been aligned with Shiyong in the days of headhunting and warring villages, it was thus a safe stop over on the way to trade in Assam.  He remembered Phejin’s Great Grandfather’s house as “very grand, adorn with many skulls of animals,” a sign of status in Konyak culture, where the value of man was measured by his ability to hunt and fight.  Still proud of his own warrior roots when I asked if I could photograph him he donned his horned bamboo hat, and grabbed his spear, once a fearsome weapon now a crutch for his tired legs.  It was a pleasure to meet a man who had lived through such dramatic cultural changes in his life, one of a few remaining Konyak warriors who remembered a way of life that is now extinct.

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