Following the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society to the north-eastern regions of India to a little-studied sector of the country, ethnographer Daniil BUTORIN decided to share his impressions about one of the stages of the journey.
The village of Longwa, like the entire district of Mon in the state of Nagaland, has been reopened to tourists recently. Two years ago, there was an unpleasant incident with a tourist in the district, after which the authorities banned access for foreign travelers here. It should also be noted that various armed groups operate in this region, so the overall situation here is far from calm.
Nevertheless, the village of Longwa is quite popular among tourists. Many travelers want to get here to get unique shots of head hunters. However, they will be disappointed, because instead of untouched exotics, they’ll get paid costumed photo shoots.
We arrived in the village of Longwa on Sunday morning, when most of the people were at the service at the Baptist church. Sunday is a sacred day for the Konyak-Nagas, so traditionally nothing is open, which tourists are always warned about. Neither markets nor cafes were open – only a couple of elderly women were selling jewelry brought from Myanmar at an improvised flea market. We caught a glimpse of Supreme King of the Konyak-Nagas Angh Tonyu, when he was on his way to the service.
While waiting, we were able to observe how the geographical location of the village manifests itself in details: Burmese household items in the house of Angh Tonyu, the absence of a visible border between the two countries, as a result of which it is possible to get to Myanmar by accident.
Finally, we got an audience with Supreme Angh. We got acquainted, settled diplomatic formalities, and received permission to conduct research. Angh Tonyu’s eldest daughter Linyu, who is a third-year student at the Faculty of Theology at Kohima University, was appointed as our guide.
Then we paid a visit to Viceroy of Longwa Angh Amao and his wife. We discussed the conservation of forests and agricultural lands.
We were also lucky enough to talk to a former head hunter. He rethought his past experience through the prism of Christianity and now works as a treasurer at a local church.
In the evening there was an exchange of knives between the head of our expedition Anton Yurmanov and the wife of the viceroy Honyu. So ended our stay in the village of Longwa.
The next day, part of our expedition went to the village of Phuktong, where we had previously stayed. The adventures began after one of the local guys sold us a couple of staffs. It turned out that they were stolen from a 103-year-old head hunter and his wife. As soon as this fact was revealed, it was decided to return the staffs to their rightful owners.
Our act endeared the elderly couple to us, and the elders of the village invited us to learn about the memories of their youth – how the headhunting took place. We were told and shown how a hunter would shoot their victim with a gun and only then cut off their head with a dao sword, without engaging in a duel at a short distance.
On the same day, we met a village architect and sculptor who builds local men's houses – morungs. They act both as a meeting room and as a place for travelers to spend the night. The pillars and beams of the morung are decorated with carved figures of animals representing the embodiment of the souls of past Anghs.
A local hunter made a shoulder stock for a muzzle-loading rifle with a capsule lock before our eyes. Most of all, we were impressed by the technique of wood carving and the carpentry skills of the master. The elegant stock, made in the classic European style, was carved by the master gunsmith with the help of an impressive dao knife and a large number of auxiliary tools. At the same time, he managed to get precise and smooth lines, harmonious proportions, and good overall ergonomics.
At the same time, the local traditional wooden sculptures are a rather rough work done in a deliberately brutal manner. Although in other regions we have seen wooden art objects that combine the smoothness of lines and generality of forms; they look simple and concise, but not primitive.
We asked the architect to make a wooden head – like the one we saw in the morung. Unfortunately, he could not do it due to lack of time. The master gunsmith, who carved the head in just one night, helped out.
Its execution is characterized by a high level of detail. Modern plasticity, attempts to imitate a brutal manner are absent. The author managed to display in detail such facial features as nose, eyebrows, lips, and he did it with as much filigree as possible.
He used a dao knife in his work. By the way, the length of the blade is about 40cm, and the handle is about 50cm, but local craftsmen manage to achieve almost surgical precision with this tool.
From the perspective of the study of the art of the Konyak tribe, this head is of considerable interest. Thus, this wooden sculpture will become the main exhibit in the ethnographic collection of our expedition.