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Identification. The designation "Naga" is applied to the numerous Indo-Mongoloid tribes living in the hill country at the convergence of the borders of India and Myanmar (Burma). Of these tribes, the following have received coverage in anthropological literature: the Kacha, the Angami, the Rengma, the Lhote, the Sema, the Ao, the Konyak, the Chang, the Sangtam, the Yachumi, the Tukomi, the Naked Rengma, the Tangkhul, and the Kalyo-kengyu or "slated-house men." The name "Naga" was first given to these tribal groups by the Ahoms in Assam and other neighboring Peoples (e.g., early Indo-Aryans, Kamarupa and Bengali Mongoloids, as well as the Assamese Ahoms) occupying the regions immediately adjacent to the districts in which the Naga are found. The derivation of the name "Naga" is not known with any degree of certainty. According to John Henry Hutton, the most likely explanation is that it is the result of the European lengthening of the Assamese word naga, "naked" (Sanskrit nagna ). Hutton also cites possibilities proposed by others for the meaning of the word, including "hill man" (from Hindustani nag, "mountain") and "people" (from nok, an Eastern Naga word of the same meaning). The Naga did not initially adopt this appellation; individual tribes preferred the use of their respective self-designations. It was not until nationalistic fervor grew with the decline of British imperial hegemony and the resultant advent of increased Indian authority over the Naga homeland that the name "Naga" gained widespread acceptance among the various tribes. Thus it was used in the names of the political organizations of the mid-twentieth Century that championed the cause of Naga independence from India (i.e., the Naga National Council, which declared independence from India in 1947, and the Naga Peoples Convention, whose efforts resulted in the formation of the state of Nagaland in 1963). In this summary, the focus is on the Angami, with additional information provided selectively for other Naga tribes.

Location. The locus of Naga culture is the hill country of northeast India between Assam's Brahmaputra Valley to the west and the Myanmar (Burma) border to the east. It is a steeply ridged and densely forested area bordered by the states of Arunachal Pradesh on the north and Manipur on the south. The approximate geographic coordinates of the Region are 24° 00 to 27° 30 N and 93° 00 to 95° 00 E.

Demography. The 1981 census of the state of Nagaland recorded a population of 774,930, three-quarters being Nagas. But Nagas live also in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Myanmar (Burma). In 1971 India had a total of 467,720 Nagas. Figures from 1982 record the following population estimates by tribe: 75,000 Ao Nagas, 18,000 Chang Nagas, 85,000 Konyak Nagas, 11,000 Maring Nagas, 21,000 Phom Nagas, 10,000 Rengma Nagas, 15,000 Rongmei Nagas, and 26,000 Zeme (Sema) Nagas.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Naga are characterized by a linguistic diversity that directly parallels their tribal diversity. There are about as many Naga dialects as there are Naga tribes. The lingua franca of the state of Nagaland is Naga Pidgin (also known as Nagamese, Kachari Bengali, or Bodo) and is particularly prevalent in Kohima District. There are some twenty-seven known Naga dialects, all part of the Tibeto-Burman Family, which is itself part of the Sino-Tibetan Phylum. These include Angami Naga, Ao Naga, Chang Naga, Chokri Naga, Kheza Naga, Khiamngan Naga, Khoirao Naga, Konyak Naga, and many others.

History and Cultural Relations

While folk traditions regarding the history of the various Naga tribes abound, scholarly consensus has not been reached concerning their origin. Generally speaking, very littie is known of the origin of any of the Mongoloid groups whose southwesterly migration brought them ultimately to the sub-Himalayan region and northeastern India (e.g., the Bondos and the Garos). Their presence is attested in these areas as early as the tenth century b.c. What is known is that these tribes spoke Tibeto-Burman dialects and that it is probable that their original homeland was in the region between the Huang-Ho and Yangtze (Ch'ang) rivers in northwestern China. These peoples came in successive migratory waves for several centuries (after the invasions of the Aryans in western India). The geographic extent of these migrations was quite considerable; Aryan-Mongoloid contact took place in the centuries that followed. The Mongoloid tribes were not homogeneous. Their languages, social structures, and cultures were diverse, and in the early centuries of the Common Era they began extensive expansion, from their initial settlements in the Irawadi and Chindwin river regions in northern Myanmar (Burma), throughout Assam, the Cachar Hills, and the Naga Hills. From the thirteenth century onward, the Ahomsrulers of Assam from 1228 until the British annexation of the province in 1826had extensive cultural contact with various Naga tribes. The nature of the relationship Between these tribes and the Ahoms ranged from cooperative to antagonistic. Naga tribes living near the plains paid annual tribute to Ahom rulers as a sign of allegiance, for which the Nagas were given revenue-free lands and fisheries. These were granted with the understanding that the Naga would refrain from raids in the plains areas. Trade and commerce were also extensive, with the Nagas trading salt (a particularly Important medium of exchange), cotton, medicinal herbs, ivory, bee's wax, mats, and daos (adzes) for Assamese rice, cloth, and beads. At times, northern Ahom raiders attacked Naga villages, taking booty and demanding tribute. However, these incursions did not establish lasting Assamese rule over the Naga Hills region. The Naga retained their independence until the British annexation in the early nineteenth century. The British added Assam to the East India Company's Territories in 1820. In 1832 they attempted to annex Naga Country but met with sustained and effective guerrilla resistance from Naga groups, particularly the Angami tribe. The British responded by sending approximately ten military expeditions into Naga territory between 1835 and 1851. Guerrilla activity continued unabated and British posts were subsequently established in the Angami region. This marked an important point in the process of Nagaland annexation. A unified Angami response was mounted in 1878 with raids on British forces undertaken by villages and village clusters. The imperial response involved the burning of offending villages. Angami resistance eventually met with failure and they Eventually became an administered tribe under British rule. With the subjugation of this region, the extension of alien rule throughout Nagaland soon followed, further widening the cultural gap between the Naga and other hill peoples and the Indian inhabitants of the lowlands. British treatment of the Naga was favorable. They allowed no Indian to function as administrator of the hill districts and attempted to prevent exploitation of the hill peoples by plains folk. Christian missionary activity soon followed British annexation, with American Baptists assuming the lead. Rapid progress in conversion was made. Increased literacy and a growing sense of Naga solidarityfor which the official organ of expression was the Naga National Council (NNC)resulted in the NNC's claim for regional independence in 1947. The departure of the British and the emergence of Indian self-rule made Naga political autonomy within a sovereign India a negotiable possibility. Total independence for the Naga homeland, However, was an impossibility. Violence erupted in Nagaland in 1955 as Indian forces tried to quell Naga secession efforts, and in 1956 the NNC declared the existence of the Federal Government of Nagaland. Conflict continued in spite of efforts to satisfy the call for Naga political freedom by the granting of statehood (a cause championed by the Naga Peoples Convention). In 1963 the efforts of this organization and the segment of the Naga populace which it represented resulted in the formation of the state of Nagaland. In spite of this action, hostilities continued. Under the sponsorship of the Baptist Church, a peace commission was formed and a cease-fire declared between the Nagaland federal government and the government of India on 24 May 1964. The cease-fire lasted until 1 September 1972 when an attempt on the life of the chief minister of Nagaland resulted in the Indian government's termination of the cease-fire and banning of the NNC. Armed resistance by the NNC continued into the 1970s and was not suppressed until the Shillong Accord was signed by representatives of the Indian government and the Nagaland federal government in November 1975. Isolated pockets of resistance persisted into the late 1970s, but effective resistance to Indian hegemony has since ceased. One very small Naga underground antigovernment operation existed in exile in Burma in the 1980s, but its influence in Nagaland at that time was minuscule.


Naga villages are autonomous units situated on hilltops. The average elevation of the villages is between 900 and 1,200 meters. Because of the mountainous terrain and the threat of invasion by neighboring tribes, these small villages were originally intended to be self-sufficient and secure. Consequently early explorers reported that Naga villages were heavily fortified. However, with the cessation of both intertribal conflict and outside interference (chiefly from British and Indian forces), the need for security and the degree of village fortification has lessened considerably. Norms for construction varied somewhat within the constituent Naga tribes, yet a few general observations may be made. Villages have one or more entrances that were once guarded heavily and, at times, booby-trapped. Village fortifications included large wooden doors (latched from the inside of the village and hewn from a single piece of wood), pitfalls, and ditches filled with panjis (sharply pointed bamboo stakes of varying lengths and widths). Stone walls (whose thickness may reach some 3 meters) surround Angami villages. Ao villages are surrounded by fences composed of wooden stakes and reinforced with panjis. Villages are approached by narrow paths overhung with thorny growth and are constructed so that they must be traversed by walking single file. During time of war, roads leading to Angami villages would be studded with pegs (driven into the ground) to prevent attack. Paths leading to Ao villages were often paved with rough stones near the village gate. There are also roads leading from the village to the terraced fields and jhum land that the Naga use as farmland. Jhum is land cultivated by the clearing and burning of an area of Jungle, which is then farmed for two years and subsequently allowed to return to jungle. An individual living in the village maintains a close attachment to the land of the village and to the family, clan, or village quarter (the khel ). The khel (an Assamese word for an exogamous group that corresponds most closely to the Angami word thino and the Ao word muphy ) is responsible for land cultivation, and each village is divided into several khels. The division of a village into khels is based largely on geography, but speakers of the same Language, members of the same clan, or groups of immigrants (whose migration to the village may have taken place after the village's establishment) might occupy the same khel. Materials used in house construction vary somewhat among the Naga tribes. Angami practices contain many of the norms found in other Naga tribes and serve as an appropriate Control group. A typical Angami house is a one-story structure with leveled earth used as flooring. It is from 10 to 20 meters in length and from 6 to 12 meters in width. Material used in home roofing is determined by individual status in the village, and there are four such degrees. A first-degree house may be roofed with thatching grass, a second-degree house with bargeboards, a third-degree house with bargeboards and kika (house horns), and a fourth-degree house with wooden shingles and kika (which differ at times in shape and placement on the house). The interior of each house contains three compartments. The front room (kiloh ) is half the length of the house. Paddy is stored here in baskets along one or both walls and the room is furnished with a bench (pikeh ) for rice pounding. The second compartment (mipu-bu ) is separated by a plank partition containing a doorway. It is here that the hearth is located (consisting of three stones embedded in the ground to form a stand for cooking containers). This room also serves as sleeping quarters, and beds (raised ½ or 1 meter from the ground) are found here. The third compartment, 1 meter or so in depth and extending the entire width of the house, is the kinutse, where the liquor vat is located. This room also contains the rear entrance to the house. The house is usually home to no more than five persons. Houses are irregularly arranged in an Angami village, though there is a supposition that the Angami house should face east. Each house has an open space in front of it and houses are connected by irregular paths. Small gardens are frequently made near houses and may contain maize or mustard. Nearly every Angami village has an open space that serves as a meeting place and ceremonial locus for all of the village inhabitants. This area may also contain plinths for sitting made of stone masonry or wood. These stations (which often surmounted village walls or other high points in the village and could rise as high as 9 meters) may have originally been used as posts for watchers whose purpose was to warn of impending enemy attack. The morung (dormitory, which serves as guardhouse and clubhouse for single men) is an important part of most Naga villages. However, it does not assume a place of prominence in Angami villages, some of which have no morung in the traditional sense; the house so designated is occupied by a family while simultaneously being recognized as the village morung. Villages are given names based on peculiar features of the village site, the memory of an ancient settlement that once stood where the village now stands (and which its Current occupants wish to commemorate), particular events in the history of the village, or the whim of those living there.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Lhotas, Semas, Aos, and other Naga tribes use jhum cultivation almost exclusively. The Angami have a diversified agricultural system that involves jhum cultivation and terracing (steep hillsides are arranged in terraces, or panikhets, which are flooded and used as rice fields). Terraces are fed by channels (bearing water from streams) and hollow bamboo irrigation pipes. Crops are grown for consumption and sale. Rice and millet are the main staples. Additional crops grown are Job's tears, maize, great millet (Sorghum vulgare ), beans, oil seeds, gourds, cucumbers, chilies, spinach, mustard, and kachu (a taro, Colocasia antiquorum ). Cotton and jute for clothing, thatching grass for house construction, wood for housing and fuel, and bamboo are also grown. Agricultural implements include the following: ax (merre ), spade or hoe (keju ), mattock (sivu ), rake (paro ), hoe (saro ), sickle (zupfino ), and the marking stake (kethi-thedi ) used for the marking of jungle or thatch for cutting or to prevent crop misfortune resulting from complimentary remarks about their condition. Domestic animals include: gayals (for trade), cows (for meat and trade), gayal/cow hybrids, pigs, dogs (for meat and hunting), cats (in limited number for food and magicoreligious purposes), fowl, bees, and goats. Hunting for food and sport is known among the Angami, frequent targets including serows (mountain goats), wild dogs, and deer. The usual hunting implements are spears and guns. Fishing by the use of poison, while frequent among many Naga tribes, is limited in use among the Angami. Iron, conch shells, Assamese chabili (carving knives used by the Ao), and barter were used as currency before the arrival of the British rupee.

Industrial Arts. Angami industrial arts include the following: the manufacture of black, blue, scarlet, pale terra-cotta, and yellow cloth (made of cotton, a species of nettle called wuve, or a species of jute called gakeh ); blacksmithing (particularly the making of iron spear heads, brass wire, and brass earrings); the making of clay pots (a specialty confined to Certain villages) ; basketry; the fashioning of bamboo mats; carving and woodwork; work in hard substances (e.g., shells, ivory, bone, and horns) ; the manufacture of musical instruments; and the production of salt (now a rarity among the Angami, but one of the chief products of the Kacha, Sangtams, Tangkhuls, and others).

Trade. The Angami and other Naga tribes trade in beads and other manufactured items with other Naga tribes and with their Assamese neighbors. The Ao trade pan, cotton, chilies, ginger, gourds, mats, and the gum of the liyang tree to obtain salt and dried fish from traders in the plains. These commodities are then traded to the Phoms and Changs in Exchange for pigs and fowl. The Ao also trade in wild tea seed with plains dwellers. Certain Ao villages grow cotton, the surplus of which is traded in the plains for salt. The decrease in intertribal conflict and the general political stabilization of the hill country in the late 1970s brought increased opportunities for trade.

Division of Labor. Weaving and cooking are the exclusive province of women among the Angami and the Ao, while hunting and warfare are men's activities. Agriculture and trade are carried on by members of both sexes. Among the Tangkhul, women manage most domestic affairs including the raising of children, the weaving of cloth (and the teaching of this art to female offspring), the storage and preparation of food, the brewing of rice beer and rice wine (zam ), the drying of tobacco, the feeding of pigs, fowl, and cattle, the carrying of water, and the pounding of rice. Women also participate in agricultural tasks (e.g., jhuming). Among the Konyak, a husband is recognized as head of the household and the owner of the family home (since it is constructed on a site that belongs to his lineage). He is responsible for the upkeep of the house, its granaries, and its furnishings. The purchase of metal and wooden implements and baskets are his duties. The preparation of food and the weaving of textiles not purchased from other villages are the responsibilities of Konyak wives. Men claim personal ownership of implements associated with their activities (weapons, tools, etc.) as do women (cooking utensils, looms, textiles, etc.). Men are responsible for rice cultivation and storage while women plant, harvest, and dry taro.

Land Tenure. Among the Angami, individual ownership of terraced fields, wood plantations, gardens, building sites, and most jhum land is allowed. As such, its disposition is at the discretion of the owner. In the case of ancestral land, the seller retains a small parcel in nominal ownership to guard against death or misfortune. In several Angami villages, However, land on which thatching grass and cane (for bridge Construction) is grown is the property of kindred, clan, or an Entire village.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent among the Angami and all other Naga tribes is patrilineal (although possible Evidence exists of the survival of a matrilineal descent system in the village of Kohima). The most distinct social unit is the exogamous clan. Clan loyalties generally supersede loyalties to other social groupings including the khel. Frequently, clans will splinter and new clans form, an indication of their fluid nature. The Angami believe themselves to be descended from two brothers (or cousins) born of the earth. The elder was named Thevo; the younger was named Thekrono. The Kepezoma issued from the elder of the two; the Kepefuma are the offspring of the younger. It is believed that the divisions bearing these names were exogamous originally. After settling into their present country these two exogamous kelhu split, the result being the formation of the exogamous clans (or thino) making up Angami society. Originally exogamous, these thino have given way gradually to subdivisions called putsa or "kindred" divisions (a more unified body than the thino). The Angami hold the thino and then the putsa responsible for the offenses of individuals. Hence, the putsa is in the process of replacing the thino as the exogamous group in Angami society. Neither kelhu, thino, nor putsa is totemic.

Kinship Terminology. Angami kin terms follow the Omaha terminological system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. The Angami are monogamous. There are two forms of marriageone ceremonial, the other nonCeremonial. The ceremonial form is desired as a symbol of status and consists of an elaborate ritual involving the services of a Marriage broker, the taking of omens, and the negotiation of a marriage-price (usually nominal). The nonceremonial form involves the taking of a woman to the house of a man where they remain kenna (forbidden) for one day. Divorce is allowed and is common. The wife gets one-third of the couple's joint property, exclusive of land. The divorced and widowed are permitted to remarry (though a widowed woman may not remarry into her deceased husband's house). Polygamy is not allowed and women are allowed freedom of choice in the selection of mates. By contrast, the Lhota are polygynous, a husband having as many as three wives. Young girls are preferred and bride-prices are high; they are paid in installments over ten years. Divorce among the Lhota is also common. Arranged marriages are the norm with women having no Freedom of choice in the selection of a spouse. A husband may also allow his brother or nearest relative on his father's side to have conjugal access to his wife when he is absent for any length of time. The Semas are also polygynous. A Sema husband may have as many as five to seven wives. Sema women have freedom of choice in mate selection. As is the case among the Lhota, marriage-prices are high. Marital residence practices seem to differ among the various Naga tribes. Part of the Angami marriage ceremony involves the giving of land to the new couple by the bridegroom's parents. The new couple work and eat on this land. This may be an indication of a patrilocal postmarital residence pattern. Part of the Ao betrothal process involves the husband's construction of a marital home (location not indicated) with materials gathered from the fields of his parents and the parents of his wife.

Domestic Unit. The typical Angami household contains about five persons: a husband, a wife, two to three children, possibly an aged and widowed parent, and perhaps a younger unmarried brother.

Inheritance. An Angami man cannot leave property to anyone outside of his clan or kindred without considerable complication. If no special provisions have been made, the next male heir within a kindred usually inherits a man's property (after the widow receives her third). The normal practice is for a man to divide his property during his lifetime. When sons marry, they receive their portions. When the father dies, the youngest son inherits all property including the father's house. At this time, the best field must be given to the eldest son in exchange for another field. This and all procedures governing inheritance may be modified by verbal agreement. The inheritance of adopted sons is determined at the time of adoption. Land may not be left permanently to daughters. It may be left for the daughter to enjoy during her lifetime, but it returns to the male heirs after her death. Very few exceptions to this general rule are known.

Socialization. After an elaborate postbirth ritual (part of which places the newborn in close relationship with the Father's kindred), Angami children are suckled by their mothers for two to three years. Girls' ears are pierced six to twelve months following birth, while those of boys are pierced as soon as they are able to speak. At 4 to 6 years of age, an Angami boy leaves his mother's side of the house (where he has slept up to this point) and moves to his father's side of the house to sleep. From this point on he is considered a member of the male community and no longer remains with women when sex separation takes place at gennas (magicoreligious rites and ceremonies). Mothers are responsible for the upbringing of children and a nuclear family structure obtains. The Angami morung (young men's house), which functions as a guardhouse, clubhouse, and center of several communal activities in most Naga tribes (with the exception of the Sema), is of ceremonial importance only; it does not serve as an actual residence for young unmarried men (as it does among the Ao, for example). Girls' houses (found among the Ao, Memi, and other tribes) are also located in some Angami villages. Naga children generally share in all responsibilities assumed by their parents. The socialization of Naga girls includes instruction by their mothers in weaving, an industrial art belonging exclusively to women. Boys and girls are allowed a considerable amount of premarital sexual freedom in most Naga tribes.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The basic Angami social unit is the exogamous patrilineal clan (thino), though the clan has been superseded by the kindred (putsa). Individual identity is bound chiefly to these groups. Clan and kindred are responsible for the behavior of constituent members. Social status is reflected in the roofing of houses. Prestige can be attained by the collection of trophies in war and in sponsorship of festivals. Status may also be based on a person's individual clan membership.

Political Organization. A council of elders functions as the administrative authority in a village, and individuals with grievances may voice them at council meetings. Chiefs are also part of the political structure of the village, but the delimitation of their powers varies among the several Naga tribes. The government appoints village officials today. In Angami villages these are called gaonburas and their authority and responsibilities are similar to those of the village chieftains (pehumas ) of the past. The office of the gaonbura is not hereditary. The same was true, in most cases, of that of the pehuma. The gaonbura's major administrative responsibility is the collection of the house tax, though he may also act on behalf of his villagers as a go-between with government Officials. The pehuma exercised most influence in the conduct of war, the settlement of disputes within the village being delegated to the elders' council.

Social Control. Conflicts are resolved within Angami Villages by a council of elders who discuss matters of dispute among themselves, with the parties involved, and with the general public, until some resolution is reached. Issues centering on tribal custom are usually referred to the older men of a clan. Factual questions are decided by oath, and the authority of the oath (particularly when one party swears by the lives of family and clan members) is rarely questioned.

Conflict. Naga tribes maintained a high degree of isolation from neighboring peoples. Conflict between villages, tribes, and clans was frequent before annexation of the highland Regions by the British, as were hostilities between the Naga and the Assamese living in the plains. Head taking was an Important feature of warfare among the Naga generally, and weapons included spears, shields, and guns (acquired in large part after the coming of the British). Initial British incursions into Naga-held territories met with substantial resistance. The Angami in particular were actively involved in anti-British resistance, frequently conducting guerrilla raids on British outposts. In time, the conduct of war was augmented by diplomatic efforts to resolve issues of territorial sovereignty and independence. As a result, armed resistance seasoned with diplomacy has been the Naga method of conflict resolution, first with the British colonial authorities and then with the Indian government.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Christianity has taken root in some Naga tribes, but it has by no means eclipsed traditional Religious beliefs. The Angami religious system features belief in a number of spirits and supernatural forces associated with the cycle of life. Animate and inanimate objects may be regarded as embodied spirits, and there is a distinction drawn between the gods and the souls of dead humans. Among the vast number of terhoma ("deities") the following should be noted: Kenopfu (the creator god); Rutzeh (the giver of sudden death); Maweno (god of fruitfulness); Telepfu (a mischievous god) ; Tsuko and Dzurawu (husband and wife dwarf gods presiding over wild animals); Metsimo (guardian of the gate leading to paradise) ; Tekhu-rho (god of tigers) ; and Ayepi (a god who lives in Angami houses and brings prosperity). Supernatural forces are believed to possess both benevolent and malicious qualities and, when occasion demands, Angami belief provides for prayer to be made to them and for their propitiation or challenge by humans.

Religious Practitioners. Angami religious practitioners include the following: the kemovo (who directs public Ceremonies and is the repository of historical traditions and Genealogical information); the zhevo (who functions as integral part of the performance of personal gennas, and who also is called on in times of sickness to advise an appropriate Ceremonial course of action to cure the disease); the tsakro (an old man who inaugurates the sowing of crops); and the lidepfu (an old woman who inaugurates the reaping of crops). All of these practitioners are public functionaries. Other Religious specialists, whose realm of activity is confined to the private domain, are known as well. These include: the themuma, whose knowledge may range from competence in particular kinds of divination to knowledge of poisons; the zhumma ("invulnerables"), who reportedly can be harmed neither by bullet nor spear; the kihupfuma (individuals gifted with powers to cause illness and bad fortune) ; and the terhope (women who dream in order to foretell the outcome of various endeavors). A similar hierarchy of practitioners obtains in many other Naga tribes.

Ceremonies. Angami religious life centers on a series of eleven gennas (magicoreligious ceremonies accompanied by behavioral restrictions binding upon community and/or Individual) performed during the year. These are connected with agricultural events that affect the life of the Community. Gennas of less frequent occurrence include those for war dancing, interclan visitation, and preparation of a new village door. Individual gennas (i.e., those associated with the normal cycle of events in a person's life) include those for birth, marriage, and death. Some seven social gennas may be performed in order to gain status. Miscellaneous gennas for illness, rainmaking, head taking, and hunting may also be performed. Angami religious life also includes the observance of certain restrictions on individual behavior (called hennas ) and corporate behavior (called pennas ). The ceremony accompanying the genna (called nanu ) involves the offering of flesh (part of which is offered to the spirits), the wearing of ceremonial garments, singing, dancing, the pounding of dhan (unhusked grain of the rice plant), the abstention from work, and the prohibition of any contact with strangers. Similarity in the structure of rites and ceremonies obtains in other Naga tribes.

Arts. Music and dancing are important components in Angami gennas. Oral literature includes numerous myths and legends (which are also accompanied by song). Images of spirits and gods are lacking in Angami visual art, but the representation of the human form in Angami woodwork is known. Wooden dolls of the human figure in miniature are made and dressed in traditional clothing. Originally these were produced for artistic purposes but their value was Perceived by those who produced them, making them subject to sale. Life-size human figures are manufactured and placed over graves. The representation of the human head is a Common feature of Angami wood carving (e.g., on village doors, house gables, and wooden bridges), as are the head of the gayal, the pig's head, and an image representing either a human breast or the top of a dhan basket. Proficiency in wood does not obtain among all Naga tribes.

Medicine. Magicoreligious ceremonies are the major cure prescribed for ills among the Angami. In addition to these rites, a number of medicinal herbs are used for their curative properties. The brain of the khokhe fish, the bile of the toad, the casts of earthworms, a dog's eyes and hairs, raw eggs, and the marrow of the serow are among the animal parts and by-products used for medicinal purposes by the Angami. Among other Naga tribes (e.g., the Ao), magicoreligious means for the cure of illnesses are also preferred, but the use of plant and animal by-products for medicinal purposes also obtains.

Death and Afterlife. Attitudes toward the burial of the dead vary among the various Naga tribes. The Angami place responsibility for the burial of the dead on the male relatives of the deceased. Burial usually takes place within the village. A grave is prepared either beside one of the village paths or in front of the deceased's house. The body of a man is interred in a coffin covered by a white cloth. With it are buried a fire stick, one or two spears, a dao, a young chicken (alive), and a gadzosi seed (placed between the teeth of the corpse). The gadzosi seed is provided so that the deceased's encounter with Metsimo in the afterlife will be a successful one. A woman is buried with a few beads, a new under-petticoat, a reaping hook, a young chicken (live), and the gadzosi seed. Once buried, the coffin is covered with flat stones. Onto the stones is poured the contents of the deceased's ceremonial kang ("carrying basket"): seed for wet rice, Job's tears, millet (and every other kind of edible grain), zu (rice beer), and the deceased's drinking cup. The grave is then covered with earth and leveled. Atop the grave are placed personal implements once belonging to the deceased. Angami eschatology distinguishes between the fates in the afterlife of those who live good lives and those who do not. The former join the sky god Ukepenopfu, while the latter are condemned to pass through seven existences beneath the Earth. Life with the sky god is presumed to be an extension of earthly life with hunting, headhunting, drinking, and feasting. The major requirement for entry into this blessed state is that one have performed the zhatho genna and abstained from unclean meat thereafter. Angami males must struggle with Metsimo on the narrow passage that leads to the gate of the sky god's domain. Failure results in the deceased's being forced to wander between Heaven and Earth as a wandering spirit. Similarities between the Angami and other Naga tribes regarding eschatology do obtain. Belief in the narrow road leading to Paradise is Virtually universal among the Naga.


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Majumdar, D. N. (1944). Races and Cultures of India. Allahabad: Kitabistan. 4th ed. 1961. New York: Asia Publishing House.

Maloney, Clarence (1974). Peoples of South Asia. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Maxwell, Neville George Anthony (1973). India and the Nagas. Minority Rights Group Report no. 17. London. Rev. ed. 1980. India, The Nagas, and the North-East.

Mills, James Philip (1922). The Lhota Nagas. London: Macmillan. Reprint. 1979. New York: AMS Press.

Mills, James Philip (1926). The Ao Nagas. London: Macmillan. 2nd ed. 1973. London: Oxford University Press.

Mills, James Philip (1937). The Rengma Nagas. London: Macmillan. Reprint. 1979. New York: AMS Press.



views updated May 29 2018






Alternate Names

Nagis, Naginis (female)

Appears In

The Vedas, the Mahab-harata


Children of Kadru and Kasyapa

Character Overview

Nagas are a race of serpent creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Female Nagas are called Nagis or Naginis. Usually depicted as human above the waist and snake below the waist, Nagas can also change shape to appear fully human or snake. Nagas and Nagis are known for their strength, supernatural wisdom, and good looks. When Nagis take human form, they can marry mortal men, and some Indian groups claim descent from them.

According to legend, Nagas are children of Kadru, the granddaughter of the god Brahma (pronounced BRAH-muh), and her husband Kasyapa (pronounced kahsh-YUH-puh). Nagas lived on earth at first, but their numbers became so great that Brahma sent them to live under the sea. They reside in magnificent jeweled palaces and rule as kings at the bottom of rivers and lakes and in the underground realm called Patala (pronounced PAH-tuh-lah).

Like humans, Nagas show wisdom and concern for others, but also show cowardice and injustice. Nagas are immortal, or able to live forever, and are potentially dangerous. Some are demons; others seem friendly and are worshipped as gods. Nagas also serve as protectors and guardians of treasure—both material riches and spiritual wealth.

In Buddhism, one famous Naga named Mucalinda spreads his cobra hood to shelter Buddha (pronounced BOO-duh) while he meditates. When the god Vishnu (pronounced VISH-noo) sleeps, he is protected by Shesha, king of the Nagas. Shesha is said to have many heads—as many as a thousand—that support the planets and shelter Vishnu beneath them. As servants of the god Indra (pronounced IN-druh), Nagas oversee the distribution of rain. Sometimes they withhold the rain until forced to release it by the eagle god Garuda (pronounced GUH-ruh-duh).

Nagas in Context

In Hindu culture, snakes and serpents do not have the negative associations they have throughout Western culture. This may be due to the greater exposure to snakes that people in India have, with many species of snakes thriving throughout the region thanks to the tropical and sub-tropical environment and monsoon weather. The Mababbar-ata even contains a tale about snake sacrifice that, according to the text, will remove any fear of snakes from a listener once it has been heard.

Key Themes and Symbols

In many respects, Nagas symbolize humankind's relationship with nature. Their attitude toward humans is directly related to how humans treat the environment in which the Nagas live, especially lakes and rivers. In relation to Vishnu and Buddha, Nagas represent protection and shelter.

Nagas in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Nagas are mentioned in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata and are considered to be the ancestors of certain groups of Indian people. One area in northeastern India is known as Nagaland, and its many tribes are collectively known as Nagas. In Western culture, a race of serpentine beings appeared in the Warcraft video game universe and in Dungeons and Dragons role-playing games, and Marvel Comics features a snake-person villain called Naga who was introduced in the Sub-Mariner comic series in 1969. In the Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling, Nagini is the name of the serpent servant and companion of the evil Lord Voldemort, Harry's arch-enemy.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Nagas are often associated with a specific type of snake, usually the Indian cobra. Using your library, the Internet, or other available resources, research the Indian cobra. Why is it considered important in Indian culture? How dangerous is it? Are Indian cobras endangered, and if so, what measures are being taken to protect the species?

SEE ALSO Brahma; Buddhism and Mythology; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Serpents and Snakes


views updated Jun 11 2018


Nagas are a race of semidivine serpent creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Female Nagas are called Nagis or Naginis. Usually depicted as human above the waist and snake below the waist, Nagas can also change shape to appear fully human or snake. Nagas and Nagis are known for their strength, supernatural wisdom, and good looks. When Nagis take human form, they can marry mortal men, and some Indian dynasties claim descent from them.

According to legend, Nagas are children of Kadru, the granddaughter of the god Brahma*, and her husband, Kasyapa. Nagas lived on earth at first, but their numbers became so great that Brahma sent them to live under the sea. They reside in magnificent jeweled palaces and rule as kings at the bottom of rivers and lakes and in the underground realm called Patala.

Like humans, Nagas show wisdom and concern for others but also cowardice and injustice. Nagas are immortal and potentially dangerous. Some are demons; others seem friendly and are worshiped as gods. Nagas also serve as protectors and guardians of treasureboth material riches and spiritual wealth.

supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous

dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

immortal able to live forever

prophet one who claims to have received divine messages or insights

One famous Naga named Muchalinda spreads his cobra hood to shelter the prophet Buddha while he meditates. When the god Vishnu* sleeps, he is protected by Shesha, king of the Nagas. Shesha's seven snake heads cover the god. As servants of the god Indra, Nagas oversee the distribution of rain. Sometimes they withhold the rain until forced to release it by the eagle god Garuda.

See also Brahma; Buddhism and Mythology; Hinduism and Mythology; Indra; Serpents and Snakes.

*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Nāgās (from Skt., nagna, ‘naked’). A Hindu sect of naked ascetics. They were recruited mainly from non-brahman castes, and became well-known for their belligerence in defending their tradition.