The Naga are a group of several tribes who speak various distinct Tibeto-Burman languages, including Poumai (Poula), Sumi, Lotha, Sangtam, Angami, Pochuri, Ao, Mao (Emela), Inpui, Rongmei (Ruangmei), Tangkhul, Thangal, Maram, and Zeme. In addition, they have developed Nagamese Creole, which they use between tribes and villages. The Nagas are categorised into different tribes differentiated by language and traditions. Almost all these Naga tribes have a similar dress code, eating habits, customs, traditional laws… One distinction was their ritual practice of headhunting, once prevalent among warrior tribes in Nagaland and among the Naga tribes in Myanmar. Many Naga tribes have adopted Christianity which has led to them dropping many tribal customs and traditions. The spread of English education, was part of the arrival of modernity in the Naga hills. Cited below are prominent Naga tribes.
One of the major tribal communities of Nagaland is the Angami Tribe. The territory of the Angamis is made up of the present Kohima district, which is divided into four regions; Southern Angami, Western Angami, Northern Angami and Chakhro Angami. The former Eastern Angami have separated and are now recognised as Chakhesang. The Angami Nagas are hill people depending mainly on cultivation and livestock-rearing. The Angamis are known for terraced wet-rice cultivation. Due to this labor-intensive cultivation method, land is considered most valuable. Angamis were traditionally warriors. With the introduction of Christianity in the region several Angamis changed their faith to Christianity and eventually inter-village feuds came to an end and so did head hunting. Although more than 98% of the Angamis are Christians, they are one of the last Naga tribes who still practice animism. Music forms an integral part of their life and their most favored musical instrument is the drum and flute which is played during all their rituals and festivals. The Angamis celebrate a ten-day harvest festival called Sekrenyi also called Phousanyi in February. The term ‘Sekrenyi’ literally means sanctification festival. The Angami men wear shawls and women wear Mechala; a wrap-around skirt and shawls with bold designs and patterns. Both men and women wear strikingly beautiful ornaments which comprise of beads, pendants, bangles and bracelets. Angamis are popular for their woodcraft, bamboo weaves, cane furniture and woven shawls. Angami women also practice pottery and basket making. Pork with bamboo shoot is considered one of the common dishes among the Angamis.
The Ao is one of the major Naga tribes and they occupy the territory from Tsula (Dikhu) Valley in the east to Tsurang (Disai) Valley in the west in Mokokchung district. They are well known for multiple harvest festivals held each year.
The Aos are religious and believe in life here-after. They had principles of worship but not in written script. These rites were conducted by two priestly clans. In 1872, these highlanders and former head-hunters were influenced by the Christian missionaries under the American Foreign Baptist Mission who brought in modernization and education. The main annual festivals of the Ao are the Moatsü and the Tsungremong. The Moatsü festival is celebrated on 2nd of May in honour of Lijaba, – the creator of the whole earth – to appeal for his blessings for a good crop life. The Tsungremong festival – a celebration for harvesting – is held during the 1st week of August. In the modern times Christmas has become the most important festival in many Ao inhabited regions.
The word Chakhesang comprises three tribes: cha – Chakri, Khe – Khezha, Sang – Sangtam. The Chakhru, Kheza and Sangtam dialects of the Chakhesang language belong to the Naga group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. Chakhesangs are the former Eastern Angami, who have separated from the Angami Naga tribe, and are now recognized as a separate tribe. Most of the villages of these tribes falls under the Phek District, Pfutsero and Chozuba sub-division of Nagaland. Now the Chakhesangs consist of two major group “chokri” and “khezha” and one minor group “zhamai” or “zhavame”, who belong to Poumai Naga tribe living predominantly in Manipur. The Main Festival Thsukhenyie & Sukrenyu on 6th of May 15th of January in Phek district.
It is believed that the Changs emerged from a place called Changsangmongko, and later settled at Changsang. The word Chang is said to have derived from the word chognu (banyan tree), after a mythical banyan tree that grew at present day abandoned Changsang. Another theory says that the Chang migrated to present-day Nagaland from the east, and called themselves ‘Chang’, meaning eastern in the local language. Some Changs also claim the Aos as their ancestors. The Chang folklore is similar to that of the Ao. The Chang, like several other Naga tribes, practiced headhunting in the pre-British era. The person with maximum number of hunted heads was given the position of lakbou (chief), who would settle the village disputes and manage village administration. The Changs were originally animists, but over time a majority has converted to Christianity. Naknyu Lem is the major traditional festival of the Changs. According to the Chang mythology, the ancient people had to remain inside their homes for six days due to extreme darkness. Naknyu Lem is held to celebrate the light on the seventh day. This festival is observed by animal sacrifice and feasting, cleaning of the village and household, exchange of gifts, sports, song and dance. The traditional Chang dress features distinctive shawl-like garments and ornamented headgear. Their cuisine is essentially non-vegetarian, and comprises a variety of meats and fish with rice as the staple food. Agriculture is the traditional occupation of the tribe, and jhum cultivation is practiced. Crafts such as wood-carving, spinning, weaving, pottery and basketry are also pursued.
Khiamniungan is one of the minor Naga tribes, mainly found in the Tuensang district and the adjoining areas of Burma. According to local folklore, the Yimchungers and the Khiamniungans migrated to the present-day Nagaland from Upper Burma as one group and separated into two at the Moru village. Unlike several other Naga tribes, the Khiamniungan came under the influence of Christianity much later due to their remote location. The traditional Khiamiungan attire consists of bright red and bright deep blue colored clothes. The ornaments are made of cowries and conch shells. The tribal musical instruments include drums made of gourds and bamboo flutes. The Khiamniungan tribals, who traditionally practised jhum cultivation, celebrate the Miu festival at the time of sowing. They make offerings and prayers for a good harvest. Tsokum is their week-long harvest festival celebrated in October. The festival includes dancing, singing, cleaning, repair of the roads, and outdoor cooking and eating. In this festival the people invoke the gods for a bountiful harvest.
The Konyak are a Naga people, and are recognised among other Naga by their tattoos, which they have all over their face and hands. Facial tattoos were earned for taking an enemy’s head. The Konyaks can be found in Myanmar, in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal, and in the Mon district of Nagaland. They are known in Arunachal as Wancho Konyak. The Konyak language belongs to the Northern Naga sub-branch of the Sal sub-family of Sino-Tibetan. The Konyak believed in the system of the ‘Morung’ which means ‘bachelor’s dormitories. With the attainment of a particular age, boys and girls were sent to these institutes and they remained there till adulthood or till marriage. The youngfolk were trained in discipline, warfare and taught to adhere to the principles of their culture and traditions. With the changing time, the importance of such institutes is losing ground but a few still exist. The Konyaks were known as head hunters of North East India. In the recent past, they were famed as a war loving lot, attacking nearby villages of other tribes and taking the heads of opposing warriors as trophies to hang in the Morung. The number of heads indicated the power of a warrior and the tribe and becomes a collective totem. The social system of the Konyak is dependent on the hereditary kingship or anghship. They make it a point that every village must have an angh who will have the authority on the village administration. In the entire district of Mon, there are as many as seven angh chiefs. The Konyak’s festival Aoleang falls in the first week of April. It is a time when the tribe don their traditional attire, gather to sing, dance and feast together as a community.
The Kukis, also known as the Chin in the Chin state of Myanmar and as Mizo in the Indian state of Mizoram are a number of related Tibeto-Burman tribal peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Burma, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In Northeast India, they are present in all states except Arunachal Pradesh. The Kukis have their own unique customs and traditions. Sawm, a community center for boys – was the center of learning. The best students were recommended to the King’s or the Chief’s service, and eventually would become leaders or warriors in the army. Lawm (a traditional form of youth club) was an institution in which, boys and girls engaged in social activities, for the benefit of the individual and the community. Besides being a source of traditional learning, Lawm was also useful for imparting technical and practical knowledge to its members, especially with regard to farming methods, hunting, fishing, and sporting activities. Kuki men wear colorful Sangkhol, a jacket and a ‘Pheichawm’ (short dhoti). Sometimes a Chaddar or a wrap is used. They also wear Tuhpah (head cover). Women wear anih-san underneath a pon’ve or a wraparound. The dress is worn from above the chest. Ornaments include earrings, bracelets, bangles, necklace and a typical ring shaped earring to stretch the ear lobe. Mimkuut Festival is the major festival celebrated by Kukis and falls in the month of January. It is celebrated with great fanfare with the drinking of rice-beer, singing, dancing, and feasting.
Lotha is the name of a major Naga tribe inhabiting the Wokha district. Locals mention that the Rengmas and the Lothas were once part of a single tribe. There are oral records of a mighty struggle between the combined Rengma villages, and the Lotha village of Phiro. Like many Nagas, the Lothas practiced headhunting in the olden days. After the arrival of Christianity, they gave up this practice. Tokhu Emong and Pikhuchak are the main festivals celebrated amidst much pomp and splendour. Tokhü Emong, the harvest festival, is yearly celebrated the 1st week of November and it stretches over to 9 days. The entire village takes part in the celebration. The main features of the festival are community songs, dances, feast, fun and frolic. Lothas are renowned for their colorful dances and folk songs. The male members wear shawls indicating their social status. The prestigious social shawl is locally called ‘Opvuram’ for women and ‘Longpensu’ for men.
Their traditional territory lies between that of the Konyak in the north-east, the Ao in the west and the Chang in the south. Yongnyah is the largest Phom village. The origin of the Phoms, like that of other Naga tribes, is uncertain. One oral folklore of the Phoms states that their ancestors originated from stones. Agriculture is their main occupation and the tribe practices jhum cultivation. The Phoms also engage in pottery, bamboo work and spinning. The traditional Phom dressing was indicative of the social status of the wearer. The ordinary clothing included a white or a dark blue shawl-like body wrap. A man who had taken a head or offered feasts had the privilege to wear a cowrie-ornamented shawl, locally called ‘fanet-henyu’. The women wore skirts called shung-nang, which came in different colors and patterns. The Phoms have 4 major festivals, the most important of which is Monyu. The others are Moha, Bongvum and Paangmo. Monyu is a 12-day festival, which marks the end of winter and onset of summer which usually falls between 1-6 April. One or two days before the festival, its arrival is signaled by beating log drums. The festival involves community feasting, dancing, singing and social work such as infrastructural repairs and construction of bridges. During the festival, the men present their married daughters or sisters with rice beer and special food to show their affection and respect. The priests or the village elders predict the outcome of the coming year for the village.
This Naga tribe inhibits the eastern part of the Phek district, centered on the Meluri town about 170 Km from the state capital Kohima. The Pochury is a composite tribe formed by three Naga communities: Kupo, Kuchu and Khuri. The word Pochury is an acronym formed by the names of three native villages of these tribes: Sapo, Kechuri and Khuri. Besides the three main communities, migrants belonging to the Sema, Sangtam and Rengma tribes have also been absorbed in the Pochury group. The Pochury are dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry. Hunting, forest produce and fishing were the major subsidiary occupations. They mainly practised jhum cultivation and terrace cultivation was practised by those living in the basins of Tizu and Chichi rivers. The Pochury had a village council called ‘mozaluo’ comprising 6-7 elders from different clans to manage the village affairs. These traditional village councils are now elected by the people. They retain several administrative powers, although their judicial powers have been curtailed by the government. The village councils elect area councils, which are responsible for welfare and development activities, and also settle inter-village disputes. The Village Development Board, with 5-6 members, supervises the execution of development schemes within a village, under the leadership of village council chairman. Yemshi is an annual traditional festival celebrated by all the Pochury. It is a combination of the different festivals celebrated by its three sub-tribes; Kupo, Kuchu and Khuri and is celebrated on 5 October. Another major Pochury festival is Nazu which is celebrated for ten days in February.
Rengma Tribe are found in both Nagaland and Assam. The community is further divided into two categories – Eastern and Western Rengma. According to the local folklore, the Rengmas and the Lothas were once part of a single tribe. There are also oral records of a mighty struggle between the combined Rengma villages, and the Lotha village of Phiro. Slavery used to be a practice among the Rengmas which was a declined by the time the British arrived. The traditional Rengma clothing consists of clothes worn according to the social status and position of the weavers. Colors, patterns, ethnic motifs and symbols vary acordingly. ‘Rhikho’ is a cloth worn by a man who has never been able to offer a great feast or has never killed an enemy. Rhikho is a white cloth with four narrow black bands and the number of black bands varies with the age of the wearer. ‘Moyet tsu’, another ordinary type of cloth is usually worn by the young men. It is a dark blue cloth wit’h a very broad median band, with the red zigzag pattern at the edges. ‘Alungtsu is a cloth worn by important men. ‘Teri Phiketsu’ is a shawl, which requires the wearer to perform the head hunting ceremony. Rengmas are famous for making yellow dye from the flowers of a tree. They also practice painting on cloth. They are considered experts in terrace cultivation and their harvest festival is a time for merriment. The harvest festival is called Ngada and is an eight-day festival that marks the end of the agricultural season. Ngadah is celebrated just after the harvest, towards the end of November. The village high priest announces the date of commencement of the festival.
The Sangtam people are one of the major tribes in Nagaland inhibiting the southern part of the state under the Kiphire district and the Northern part in the Longkhim-Chare sub-division of Tuensang district.Like many other tribal groups in Northeast India, they practice jhum, or shifting cultivation. Unlike other Naga tribes in Nagaland, many of the Sangtam have retained their traditional beliefs in spite of embracing Christianity at the same time. Sangtams celebrate twelve different festivals, in particular Mongmong, all of which are affiliated with their traditional culture and religion. They are united under the common banner called “United Sangtam.”
The Sumis mainly inhabit the Zunheboto district, although many have spread to other districts within Nagaland. They are also one of the most united and the most aggressive tribe, but despite their ferocity and aggressive nature in warfare, they are also known for their simplicity and honesty. Their loyalty towards their tribesmen and friends is unparalleled. The Sumis celebrate many festivals to mark the beginning of new seasons, harvesting of new crops or victory at war. The two major festivals are Tuluni and Ahuna. Tuluni celebrated on 8th July is a festival of great significance for the Sumi. This festival is marked with feasts as the occasion occurs in the bountiful season of the year. This midyear festival is a time of communal harmony and merry-making for the Sumi community. Slaughtering of pigs, cows and mithun is an important feature of this festival. Ahuna celebrated on 14th November is a traditional post-harvest festival of the Sumis. On this occasion, the entire community prepares and feasts on the first meal of rice drawn from the season’s harvest cooked in bamboo segments. In modern times, Ahuna is celebrated as a major public event with an array of cultural activities of traditional songs and dances, traditional sports and different cultural competitions and with traditional food.
Yimchunger is one of the major Naga tribes of Nagaland and the Tuensang district within India and areas of Burma. According to the Yimchunger tradition, the tribe emerged at a village called Moru, and then came to the Jure village. The Yimchungers and the Khiamungans are believed to have migrated to the present-day Nagaland from Upper Burma as one group, in one wave. They separated into two groups at the Moru village. The traditional dress of the Yimchungers includes colorful cane headgear decorated with animal hair and bird feathers. The Government of Nagaland has been instrumental in providing the proper tools and platform for the Yimchunger to share their traditions, culture, and craft. Metemneo is the traditional five-day harvest festival of the Yimchunger tribe and is celebrated after the millet crop is harvested, usually in the second week of August.
The Zemes that inhabit in Nagaland call themselves Zeliang and those of the Manipur borders are called Zeliangrong. There are many different tribes that speak Zeme Naga which is now considered to be an endangered language. The tribes who still use this language are spread out in Manipur, Nagaland and Assam. Their villages are found nearby natural water source, preferably a running stream. However, the Zemes like other Naga communities habitually construct their houses on hill tops. In head hunting days, the people were very suspicious and watchful on every movement of any outsider. Their settlement perched on the hill summit is the best location to organize the required village security. Zeme villages are homogeneous and no two different tribes are found dwelling in any single village settlement. The villages are, however, composite in respect of kinship and clan organization. The Hega festival is one of the most important and the largest festivals among the Zeliang community. It falls in the month of February from 10th to 15th every year. It is a festival invoking the gods for blessings of good health and prosperity. It is also a festival of joy and social gathering. Chega Gadi is another important and popular festival of the Zeliang people to thank the gods for a good harvest. The date for the celebrations often differs between communities and villages.