A Photographer Took Portraits Of India's Last Headhunter Tribe

Meet this tribe before they disappear

The Konyak Naga tribe has been known for its fierce headhunters for centuries. Killing an enemy and bringing back their head was considered a rite of passage and was rewarded by a tattoo on the face or the chest of the warrior. Jewelry has also been a big part of their customs: the number of heads on a warrior’s necklace shows the number of people he killed. Regulations in the 1970s put a stop to the bloodletting, but members of the tribe survive still in the northeast of India between Nepal and Myanmar

Photographer Trupal Pandya traveled to their village to take portraits before the tribe disappeared entirely.

“Heads were to us what money is to your generation. They brought us respect and meant getting a better girl for marriage. And our tattoos symbolized our achievements,” said one tribe member.

“In earlier times we used to hang the heads of our enemies on the walls of our houses, but now we are not allowed. So we have replaced them with the skulls of animals that we kill to provide for our familys” Luhbong Wang, 76, told Pandya.

Now the tribe is beset by influences of the modern age. Many of the young people have left to find jobs elsewhere, and modern fashion and technology have crept into the Konyak way of life. The ceremonies — along with traditional jewelry and clothes — are fading customs within the tribe. Within the community ,Ching Kum, 86, is famed for having hunted the last head in 1990 while fighting the neighboring Chang tribe.

Skip to footer