Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Head Hunting - Aged-old traditional practice among Wanchos of Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India

Human skulls
Remains of Skulls arranged in morungs
Inhibiting the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh, the indigenous Wanchos, (originally related to the Naga tribes) were follower of animism since the time immemorial. Head-hunting practices were crucial part of strong tradition among the tribe in the past. This practices was not purely a religious believe, yet it carried behind it the religious sanctions. Interestingly, there was remarkable belief in the magical efficacy of human head as it was believed to increase the yield of cultivated land. Therefore, belief in the magical powers of human heads, particularly in connection with the fertility cult, was also considered to be one of the reason behind this practice. Different stories regarding the origin of head-hunting can be find among this tribe. However, the basic reason behind the custom of head-hunting was the internal feuds among various Chiefs due to various reasons. In addition to the expression of their manliness and power the head-hunting expeditions were also resorted for more serious matters such as encroachment on territories by rival villages.
Generally, the causes for head-hunting arose between the two chiefs and their subjects automatically got involved in it. The expedition was undertaken when the prediction was favorable (naantak - a) and head were taken indiscriminately. However, under no circumstances, a commoner could take the head of a chief. After the heads were brought to the village, the flesh was allowed to decompose and preserved in the morungs or 'Panu' (a traditional house specially constructed for the grownups commoners near the house of the Chief). Only grownups boys (after completion of ceremony) were allowed to enter, whereas girls were strictly forbidden.
head hunter 1
Old warior with Tattoo on His chest and face
A ceremony was held after bringing the heads to the village in which the warriors were tattooed on face and chest as a mark of bravery. Such tattoo usually remarks the number of enemy heads they bring with them. Thus, the tattoo symbolize them as 'Nawmai' (Warriors). In rituals which was performed after expedition (called 'Zantang'), the rivals heads were offered rice-beer and pieces of ginger.  The man who hunts head is no longer considered as boy and thus assist in council of village Chief. Moreover, he also earns top positions in morungs among fellow-mates. The rival heads were usually handed to the chief, who confers the right of decoration by tattoo and follows with big fat communal feast. The chief’s house were now filled with numerous trophies of the chase and memorials of feasts; while 'paanu' was dedicated to the collection of memories of ferocity and vengeance i.e. thousands of human skulls arranged in shelves. It also includes the records of recent achievements, and basket full of fragments of skulls, the memorials of the bloody deeds of their forefathers and heads of exceptionally large animals and reptiles. Among them the head-hunting raids of the past and human head had formed the central motif of their traditional wood carving, ornaments (including beads making) and sculptures. Nevertheless, with the introduction of Christianity by Naga Missionaries in this tensed region, the headhunting practices are not seen till date.

Thursday, 15 May 2014


-By Dr. Manlong Ralongham, MA, PhD           

In every tribal society there are legends to describe the origin of human being. These legends also tell about the various activities of man, such as how man learnt cultivation, constructions of house, how he got war, the art of singing and dancing, where from the seeds came, etc. The Wanchos also have similar legends about their origin as well as the origin of human being. As in olden days, the Wanchos were known as Rang pang. Mother in the pains of Assam used to sub-due naughty children by telling them if they didn’t behave properly and cry then Rang pang would come and take them away. They have referred to Wanchos who lived in forfeited village along the Patkai range, who would descend on the plains and forced men, women and children to slavery and even for sacrifice. The Ahom, who entered the valley of Brahmaputra along the Buri Dihing valley crossing Patkai range in the vicinity of present Vijaya Nagar in 1226, perhaps preceded the Wanchos. Like other tribes of Arunachal, the Wanchos have their own traditional, mythology or legends about origin and migration. Among these mythologies, the Wancho theory is accepted as the meaning of Wancho. Therefore, the meaning of Wancho is hill men who are followers of Wangham.


 There are many mythologies or legends regarding the origin and migration of Wancho. According to myths of Wanchos, the lore relates how and when Wancho tribe originated. It is said that since time immemorial the king of water was named “Namwand” (crocodile). Once it came out from the water in the form of buffalo and was wandering in the jungle. A group of hunters killed that buffalo and everybody took the meat at meal. Only a woman named Khangtheak and her beautiful daughter Toizam didn’t prefer to take. Other Namwangs were provoked by this news. They let water to flow out of river and thus the whole earth got submerged in flood, excepting the woman and her daughter who did not participate in the feast. The lore continues that Toizam was conceived by the wind and after nine months she gave birth to a child and was named as Ophannu also called as Nyannu Uphannu. And thereafter this generation was called Ophannu. Therefore, Uphannu is regarded as ancestor of the whole Wanchos.
Verrier Elwin (1960) narrates the mythology of Wanchos; two brothers jointly migrated from a place called Ophannu, perhaps in North China to Patkai Mountain range. The reason behind their migration perhaps may be due to natural calamities like flood etc. that compelled them to migrate to safer place. The elder one decided to settle in the area of Burma and younger one came towards the present area of Tirap district. He came across many tribes like Nocte and Assamese in the hill tract of north and northeast and the plain area below. According Wancho Myths, Assamese and Wanchos are said to be descendents of one ancestor. There were no differences among the people in respect of ethnicity and classes in the society. Hence, Nocte, Wanchos are from one common ancestor although in due course of time they started having separate settlements. And they also started speaking slightly different dialects. There, thus, developed some differences. Otherwise culturally and traditionally they were almost same. Natural calamities like flood and earthquake occurs frequently in those days. Due to which few people from plain too came up.  Another legend narrates that when a great flood occurred, all the living creatures were drowned except a man named Aju and a women Ajong. Flood could not reach them as they took shelter on top of hill. Therefore, the Wanchos believe that all the Wanchos are descendants of Aju and Ajong.
          Another legend narrates that when a great flood occurred, all the living creatures were drowned except a man named Aju and a women Ajong. Flood could not reach them as they took shelter on top of hill. Therefore, the Wanchos believe that all the Wanchos are descendants of Aju and Ajong.
          There is also a lore reported to be same in Chinese chronicle about a women who was conceived by the wind. However, there is no written record or any account to say when the Wanchos first lived in their present habitat or whether they are the indigenous people of the area or when they have first migrated. From the information available in different Buranjis, it may however, be said that, when the Ahom King Sukafa first came and established his kingdom in Assam sometimes in the first half of the 13th century A.D (1228) the Wanchos were there in occupation of the area. From this it may be presumed that the Wanchos migrated many hundred years ago. The exact period of migration is however difficult to conjecture. About the history of migration also we have no other alternative then to depends upon the various legends current among the people. These legends are handed down traditionally by words and no written document is available.
   Through the above source of myths and legends, we came to know about the migration of Wanchos up to some extent. According to some legends the Wanchos came to their present habitat during the time of Maiphan Mihjan, meaning during the period when human being started scattering from one place to another. (Their memory does not go beyond maiphan mihjan and ophannu). And Ophannu or Ophan-tinu is the original place of the Wanchos (perhaps the Nyannu Opham is situated towards the southwest beyond the Patkai hills). Then the Wanchos migrated via-Burma and part of Tuensang district of Nagaland (the Tuensang area was under NEFA), from a place called Longphoh Sangnu. In due course of time, the Wanchos were divided into two sub-groups i.e. Tangjen and Sangjen, or Sang and Tang, named after two big villages in Mon district of Nagaland. According to some mythology, Nyannu and Ophan/Ofan are two different places while other thinks it to be one. From Nyannu Opan they came to Tinao, a place near an unidentified river. From Tinao they split in to two groups, each taking a different route, via Tangnu and Sangnu, till both finally came to and settles in the present habitat. These two groups came to be known as Tangjen and Sangjen respectively.
          These two original groups (Groups are called jen in Wancho) later broke up into smaller groups, each one of which also has its own legend of migration. The Tangjen or Tangkainusa migrated towards the southern part of Wanchos. The groups who had migrated through Tang areas are called Tangjen and the group of people came from Sang areas are called as Sangjen. Again these two groups are splitted into many sub-groups like Tingpong Sejen and Ngoipa Sejen etc.
          According to the Wancho myth, it is said that the Tangjen took ember (fire) locally called Wann from Tangnu and separated to present place. While Sangkaisa Nu or Sang migrated from North Western and South Western parts of the present habitat of the Wanchos. Thus the Sang or Tsangkainusa groups are called as Sangjen (lower Wanchos). It is also said that the Tsangjen or Sang Wanchos had migrated from Sangnu by taking the feather of bird and tooth of animal and have crossed the land of Sang. Hence, the upper Wanchos and Lower Wanchos were decendants of one ancestor.         


          After interaction with the elderly people, it came to be known that there is consensus concept among the people regarding the origin of name and meaning of the term Wancho and there are three to four mythologies on it.

1.       Wang-cho: According to this, the word Wancho is derived from local term Wang-cho which means the hill man of Wang follower or hill man living under the domain of King. The word Wang stands for Wang (King) and the Cho means Hillman.
2.       Wang- to: Few others observed that the word Wancho means follower of Wangham(King).
3.       Waan-to: A section of people maintained that, the meaning of Wancho means Waan-to(Law-follower) means to live under the law of village formulated by the forefather
4.       Rang Wango: Others propounded that the common practice of rang wan-to could be a probable origin of the word. The tribe celebrates annual festival with the worship of rangwan i.e. use of long bamboo with its branches and leaves on a platform during Oriah (annual) festival.


The whole Wanchos tribe may be broadly classified into two groups Tangjen and Sangjen on the basis of migration.          
 They are as follows:-
Tangjen groups (major villages): The Tangjens occupy the area from Pongchau up to Nginu, Longkai and Wakka i.e.

1.       Pongchau
2.       Bohnyah
3.       Khasa
4.       Kamhua Noknu
5.       Kamhua Noksa
6.       Konnu
7.       Kampong
8.       Khanu
9.       Konsa
10.   Votnu
11.   Chongkhaw
12.   Chop
13.   Kaimoi
14.   Khuagla
15.   Longkai
16.   Nyinu
17.   Nyisa
18.   Wakka
Sangjen groups (major villages)

1.       Nyaunu
2.       Nyausa
3.       Chatong
4.       Chating
5.       Longkhaw
6.       Longphong
7.       Mingtong
8.       Pumao
9.       Senua
10.   Zedua
11.   Longshom
12.   Chanu
13.   Ozakho
14.   Chopnu
15.   Chopsa
16.   Rusa
17.   Runu
18.   Wanu
19.   Nokfan

Sunday, 11 May 2014


Traditional hut (of jhum field)

Fallow land

Near Wakka village

Traditional hut

Wakka village

Indigenous jhum fields

Longding Town

Longding Town (view from helipad)

Traditional hut