views updated May 29 2018


ALTERNATE NAMES: Specific tribe names
LOCATION: India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland states)
POPULATION: around 2 million (estimate)
LANGUAGE: Over 60 Naga dialects
RELIGION: Christianity; remnants of traditional religion
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: People of India


Naga is a generic term used to designate a group of tribes inhabiting the hills and jungles of India's eastern borderlands. The name Naga may be derived from the Assamese word for naked (naga). Other possibilities are that it originates from nāg (mountain) and means hill people, or from nok, a local Naga word for "folk" or "people." The peoples of the area use the name of their specific tribe rather than "Naga," and their acceptance of this term is relatively recent.

The origins of the Naga tribes are veiled in obscurity. They are of Mongoloid stock and formed part of the successive waves of peoples who migrated into northeastern India over the centuries. Scholars suggest their original homeland may have been in central China, in the region between the Hwang He (Yellow) and Ch'ang (Yangtze) rivers. The Naga tribes have had prolonged contact with the Ahom peoples of the Assam Valley. Mention is made of them in Assamese chronicles dating from the 13th century ad onwards. British expansion into Assam in the 19th century led to conflict with the Naga and eventual annexation of the Naga region. At India's independence in 1947, the Naga tribes were unwilling to accept New Delhi's rule. On 14 August 1947, one day before India became a nation, the Naga National Council (NNC) declared the Naga people to be independent, and on August 15, when the Indian flag was hoisted at Kohima, headquarters of the then Naga Hills District, it was pulled down by the Nagas. Because of the Nagas' boycott of the first elections held in India, the Naga people were not represented in New Delhi in the first Parliament. During the 1950s, the Nagas set up the Naga Federal Government and took up arms against the Indian government. New Delhi could not allow any of the people on the Union's periphery to unilaterally declare themselves independent and, in 1955, sent in the Indian Army to restore order. Since then, Indian government troops have been fighting Naga rebels demanding an independent Naga state in the region. In 1957 the Indian government began diplomatic talks with representatives of Naga tribes, and the Naga Hills district of Assam and the Tuensang frontier were united in a single political entity that became a Union territory—directly administered by the central government with a large degree of autonomy. In July 1960 a further political accord was reached at the Naga People's Convention that Nagaland should become a constituent and self-governing state in the Indian union. Statehood was officially granted in 1963, and the first state-level democratic elections were held in 1964. This was not satisfactory to the tribes, however, and soon agitation and violence increased across the state—including attacks on Army personnel and government institutions—as well as instances of civil disobedience and non-payment of taxes. An agreement, known as the Shillong Pact, was reached by the Indian government and the NNC in 1975. However, a section of hardcore militants in the NNC disapproved of the Shillong Pact and decided to go underground to start a more radical separatist movement. This led to the formation of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN in the late 1970s. The nucleus of the group that founded the NSCN included Isaac Chishi Swu, T Muivah, and Khaplang. The NSCN started an underground Naga government, complete with a council of ministers led by a prime minister. The NSCN received plenty of support in the form of arms, ammunition, cash and other resources from the People's Republic of China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. However the NSCN suffered from a split in the late 1980s and broke into two factions, the NSCN (IM), led by Isaac Swu and Muiviah and the NSCN (Khaplang). The peace process in Nagaland has been complicated by violence and conflict between the rebel group factions. On 25 July 1997 Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral announced after talks with the Isaac group of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland that the Indian government was declaring a cease-fire or cessation of operations with effect from 1 August 1997 for a period of three months. The cease-fire has been extended (it was in effect in 2008), while talks between the Indian government and Naga rebels continue. However, violence—mainly between Naga and Naga—also continues, with a third armed Naga faction, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Unification), or the NSCN(U), appearing in late 2007. There has been much violence in the Naga-inhabited areas of India, mainly involving conflict between different rebel factions. The violence between these factions led to more than 40 deaths in April-May 2008 alone.


Naga tribes are present in four states of northeastern India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland), as well as in neighboring areas of Burma (Myanmar). Their main concentrations, however, are in Nagaland where they make up over 90% of the state's population. The 2001 census reported a population of 1,990,036 people on the state of Nagaland, of whom 1,741,992 were Nagas, divided between 16 tribes. The more important of these are the Ao Naga, Sema Naga, Konyak Naga, Lhota Naga, and Angami Naga (the discussion presented in the following pages is based primarily on the Angami Naga). Most of the major ethnographic works on the Nagas have been undertaken by J. H. Hutton, J. P. Mills, and Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf. Allowing for demographic increases and including Naga tribes outside Nagaland, the current Naga population in India is estimated to be just over 2 million people.

The Naga homeland lies in the rugged hills southeast of the Assam Valley that form the border between India and Burma. Its landforms consist of tightly packed parallel ridges and valleys, covered with dense tropical and subtropical forests, running in a general north-south direction. The elevations of the ridges increase from 600 m (2,000 ft) in the west to 2,100 m (7,000 ft) in the east. Mt. Saramati, located in eastern Naga-land on the India-Burma border, rises to an altitude of 3,826 m (12,553 ft). The region experiences a monsoon climate, with annual rainfall varying between 180 cm and 250 cm (70-100 in). Temperatures are influenced by altitude and in summer range from 20°C to 40°C (68°F-104°F). Winters are relatively mild. The thermometer rarely drops below 4°C (39°F), although frosts can occur at higher elevations.


Virtually every Naga tribe speaks its own language, and some 60 spoken dialects have been identified. Dialects might even vary from village to village. All of the Naga tongues belong to the Tibeto-Burmese branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The language used for intertribal conversation is a form of broken Assamese or pidgin called Nagamese. (A pidgin language is a simplified form of speech used for communication by people who speak different languages.) This is widely spoken in the region of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. Many Naga are also familiar with Hindi or English.

The Naga languages are essentially oral, with the literary tradition being limited to folk songs. However, Christian missionaries in the area developed alphabets and grammars for some of the Naga tongues during the late nineteenth century, with the objective of making the Bible available to the Nagas.


The Angami Naga myth of origin centers on a village of the eastern Angami Naga called Kezakenoma. There was once an old couple, so the story goes, who lived in the village with their three sons. Every day they used to spread their paddy (rice) on a great flat stone to dry. Because the stone was inhabited by a spirit, their grain had doubled when they came to gather it up in the evening. The three sons used to take turns spreading their paddy on the stone, but one day they quarreled bitterly over whose turn it was. The parents, fearing bloodshed, broke eggs on the stone, covered it with wood, and set it on fire. The stone burst with a crack like thunder, releasing the spirit, which rose to heaven in a cloud of smoke, and the stone lost its magical properties. The three sons then left the village and became the ancestors of the Angami, Lhota, and Sema tribes of the Naga.


The Naga see their world as alive with supernatural forces that influence every aspect of their lives. They believe in a supreme creator named Kenopfu ("birth spirit"). She is always seen as benevolent, and when Angami Naga live good lives, their souls go to her dwelling place in the sky. There are also gods called terhoma, who vary from deities with specific functions to vague spirits of nature inhabiting jungles, streams, and stones. Among the more important of these are Rutzeh (the bringer of sudden death), Maweno (the goddess of prosperity), and Tekhu-rho (the god of tigers). Gods and spirits can be either good or evil and have to be worshiped, appeased, or even challenged by humans. The Naga spirit world is also inhabited by the souls of the dead.

There are many kinds of specialists who deal with the religious aspects of Naga life. One of the most important of these is the Kemovo, who must be a direct descendant of the village or clan founder. The Kemovo directs all public ceremonies and is a source of genealogical and historical knowledge for his village and clan. The Zhevo, on the other hand, is indispensable for performing certain personal rituals. The term genna refers to the complex of magico-religious ceremonies around which Naga life centers. Some gennas are communal, e.g., relating to the agricultural cycle or the prevention of illness, while others are individual and are associated with life-cycle events. Various prohibitions on individual behavior (kenna) and community activity (penna) form part of the genna observances. Ritual acts of offering associated with the genna are called nanu. The Naga sacrifice both chickens and pigs, but of particular note is their custom of sacrificing the mithan, a species of domesticated cattle (Bos frontalis).

Although many elements of traditional religion survive among the Naga, most are Christian. Missionaries (American Baptists, in particular) who entered the Naga Hills in the 19th century set out to convert the naked, headhunting tribes they found living there. By 1947, about half of the Naga population had accepted Christianity. This number has been increasing in recent decades, and the 2001 census showed 90.01% of the Naga in Nagaland State as Christian.


Gennas (rites of worship) make up the festival cycle of the Naga. The Angami Naga observe 11 of these annually, with others celebrated at less frequent intervals. Gennas vary in duration but are invariably accompanied by penna (community restrictions) and kenna (personal restrictions). The Sekrengi genna, for example, is performed to protect the community from illness during the coming year. At this time, the village is in strict penna for five days. Work and travel to and from the village are prohibited. Men are kenna and have to eat separately and abstain from sexual relations. Five more days of nanu (ritual offerings) are observed, when work in the fields is totally banned. Gennas commonly involve animal sacrifice, the eating of special foods, such as dog-flesh, the wearing of ceremonial dress, and dancing and singing.


Every stage of a person's life is accompanied by individual gennas (rites). Immediately after birth, and before the cutting of the umbilical cord, a mother is fed on rice-beer, rice, and the flesh of a hen that has been touched by the newborn child. The husband, and sometimes the entire household, is under kenna (personal restrictions) for a period of time. Birth ceremonies end on the ninth day, when the father and mother take the baby to the fields. There, they pretend to work, take some food and drink, and then return to the village. Ears are pierced at a young age, although no formal ear-piercing ceremony is held. A name is given to the child after omens are read. The root vi ("good") is common in Angami Naga names, as in Vinile ("keeping good") or Viyale ("let your share be good").

At the age of about six years, a boy takes his place with the men in the community. He is expected to strangle a cock with all the other males of the village as part of the Sekrengi genna and stays with the men in ceremonies where the sexes are segregated. There is no ritual to mark puberty or the first wearing of men's clothes. The Morung or dormitory where young, unmarried men sleep is an important institution among tribes such as the Ao Naga and Memi Naga, though less so for the Angami Naga. Youth are allowed a considerable degree of sexual freedom before marriage.

When a death occurs, mourners gather, bringing cattle, rice, and rice-beer. The cattle are sacrificed and the meat distributed in a manner that would reflect the wishes of the deceased. The body is placed in a wooden coffin, along with the seeds of various crops, rice-beer, and the person's own drinking cup. A fire-stick (a piece of wood used for making fire), spears, an ax, and a live chicken are buried with the corpse. These are for the dead person to use in the next life. A bitter seed known as gadzosī is placed between the dead person's teeth. This is so the soul may pass by Metsimo, the spirit who guards the path to paradise. The Naga dig their graves either in front of the house or along a village path. Burial takes place at dusk. The following day, men come to the grave site in ceremonial dress to challenge the spirit who has carried off the dead person. They place the skulls of slaughtered cattle on the grave, as well as the dead person's shield and weapons (if a man), and personal belongings. Sometimes a life-sized wooden effigy wearing the ceremonial dress of the dead person is erected over the grave. A tomb of stone slabs is often built up over the grave site. Various feasts and animal sacrifices complete the funeral rituals.


Any Naga who can afford it performs a series of social gennas (rites) that confers on him or her high social status in the community. These "Feasts of Merit," each of which is more elaborate and costly than the preceding one, must be performed in a particular sequence. The rituals include ceremonial pounding of paddy rice (from which rice-beer is made) and sacrifices of pigs and mithan (cattle) whose flesh is consumed by the entire community. Those who perform the second-most important of these gennas (Lisu) are entitled to mount massive wooden horns (kika) on the roof of their house. The skulls of the sacrificed mithan may be hung on the house, and stylized mi-than horns carved on its walls. Two wooden posts, the man's being Y-shaped, are erected in honor of the husband and wife who carried out the genna. The highest of the social gennas is Chisu, or "stone-pulling." The young men of the village or clan (sometimes hundreds in number) don their ceremonial dress, go out into the jungle, and pull a large stone back to the village. The stone is erected as a monolith to commemorate the genna. The event is, of course, accompanied by drinking, singing, and dancing.


Naga settlements are located on hilltops. In the past, the villages were heavily fortified against attack by neighboring tribes. Wooden or stone walls and defensive ditches surrounded the village, with access limited to a heavily guarded gate or a few protected entrances. Even within the village, a clan neighborhood (khel) would be protected by a wall. Although the need for these is gone, their remains can be seen throughout the region. Near the entrance to the part of a village occupied by a particular clan is often found a large stone that is venerated by the clan and that formerly played a role in the headhunting genna (rite). Other features of the Naga village are its graves, as well as the stone pillars erected as memorials to individuals or to commemorate gennas. Angami Naga villages have lookout posts, once used to watch for approaching enemies, which rise over 9 m (30 ft) above the village itself.

In an Angami Naga village, houses are arranged in no particular order (although among some tribes they have an east-erly orientation). A typical Angami Naga house has one story and measures 10-20 m (30-60 ft) in length and 6-12 m (20-40 ft) in width. The floor consists of leveled earth. The front half of the house is used for storage and contains a bench for pounding rice. A wooden partition sets this off from a room that contains the hearth and also low platforms used for sleeping. At the very back, there is another compartment extending the entire width of the hut that holds the beer vat, which is made of a hollowed log. Household utensils and furnishings include earthen pots for cooking, baskets for storage, jars for carrying water, wooden platters for eating, and rough wooden stools.

There are four "degrees" of houses that reflect the social position of its occupant. Typically, a house has a frame of wooden posts to which bamboo matting walls and a thatched roof are fixed. The eaves extend low to the ground, so that the structure has the look of an A-frame, but with a less-steeply angled roof. A person who has performed certain social gennas lives in a house of the second degree. He or she is entitled to place bargeboards (ornamental boards that hide the beams) along the front gable. One who has performed the Lisu genna may extend these boards to form "house horns" above the roof line that may stand 10 m (30 ft) above the ground. This is a house of the third degree. The rare house of the fourth degree has a roof made of wooden shingles in addition to the house horns. The houses of the wealthy are carved with stylized motifs including mithan (cattle) heads and "enemies teeth," a sign of the successful headhunter.


The Angami Naga are divided into exogamous clans (thino). In modern times, however, the real exogamous unit seems to be a subdivision (putsa or "kindred") of the clan. Marriage may be informal, a man simply taking a woman into his house, where they remain kenna (under personal restrictions) for a day.

The ceremonial marriage, however, is a matter of status and is much more elaborate. Marriage negotiations are concluded between the families involved, omens are read, sacrifices are made, and a bride-price is paid. Although individual practices vary among the Naga tribes, there is usually a fair degree of freedom in the selection of a mate. The Angami Naga are monogamous, but divorce is allowed and common. The position of women in Naga society is generally low. Among some tribes, a woman is not allowed to inherit land. On the other hand, a woman is very much an equal partner in domestic affairs and also participates in the family's agricultural activities and trade.


There is some variation in the dress of the Naga tribes. Some tribes go naked, like the Naked Rengma. Others, such as the Lhota, wear a type of loincloth called a lengta. Worn by males, this is a narrow girdle that is wrapped around the waist. One end is drawn down at the back, brought through the legs, and then tucked into waist at the front, where it hangs down like a flap. The lengta widens at the front to conceal the wearer's genitals.

The traditional dress of the Angami Naga man is a short black kilt that reaches to mid-thigh. Three or four lines of cowry shells are generally sewn on the kilt. In the past, three lines meant the wearer was a warrior; and four, that he had taken a head in battle. A long cotton cloth is wrapped around the body over the kilt. Among the Angami Naga, this is usually black, with broad, vertical red and yellow stripes running down the border. The color of the cloth and the stripes vary among the Naga tribes. Ornaments include a wide, multistrand necklace of beads, ivory armlets, and black cane rings worn just under the knees. The Angami Naga woman wears a type of sleeveless bodice, formed by wrapping a piece of cloth under one arm and fastening it on the opposite shoulder. Another piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and falling to the knees creates a skirt. Necklaces and bracelets are common, but usually there are no ornaments on legs or feet. The hair of unmarried girls is shaved or cropped short. Ao Naga girls are tattooed upon reaching puberty.

For ceremonial occasions, a woman simply adds to her everyday dress two scarlet tassels of dyed goats' hair hanging down from the ears and puts on as many bracelets as she can find. Ceremonial dress of men, however, is quite striking. A bearskin fringe surmounted by a wheel of hornbill feathers is worn on the head. A warrior might wear a headdress of mithan (cattle) horns, boar tusks, tiger claws, and hornbill feathers. Wooden rosettes are placed at the ears, and colored cane arm-lets and gauntlets, leggings, sashes, and other ornaments and decorations are added. Spears and shields complete the ceremonial dress, which clearly harks back to the warlike character of the Naga tribes in the past.


Rice is the main food of the Naga, with potato, maize (corn), wheat, and millets also supplementing their starch intake. Meat plays a much more important role in the Naga diet than it does among other rice-eating peoples of South Asia. Pork, chicken, and beef are commonly eaten. The entire community feasts on mithan (cattle) after sacrifices, and dog-flesh is regarded as a delicacy. The Angami Naga are essentially omnivorous and will eat almost anything that can be hunted and caught in the jungle, from elephant (now rare) to crows and snakes. Some foods are genna (i.e., forbidden) because it is believed that some of their qualities pass on to the person who eats them. Thus, the Angami Naga prohibit their women from eating male goat meat because they fear that they will acquire the animal's "lecherous" tendencies. Certain prohibitions also exist on the eating of tiger meat. Meat is usually cooked together with vegetables (e.g., tubers, beans, spinach, gourds, etc.) along with chilies. Food is served on large wooden platters from which people help themselves with their fingers. Rice-beer (zū) is drunk throughout the day. Some tribes chew tobacco, while others smoke it through a water pipe.


Christianity is closely identified with modernity by the Naga, and followers of the Christian religion tend to be better educated than non-Christians. This, of course, reflects the importance Christian missionaries placed on education as a means of spreading their faith. Literacy among the Naga tribes varies, but it is on average higher than among other tribal groups in India, being reported as 65.8% in the 2001 Census of India. Literacy among the Konyak Naga was reported as low as 40.2% in the 2001 census, but it reaches as high as 85.9% among the Ao Naga. The value placed by the Naga on education is seen in the fact that some 80% of children below the age of 14 years were attending school in 2001.


Much of Naga heritage focuses on the warlike past of the Naga tribes. The taking of a head was a sign of a warrior's courage and skill and entitled him to the appropriate insignia on his clothing and even on his grave. The elaborate ceremonial dress of the Naga, and some of their dances, also hark back to a time when the Naga tribes were in constant conflict. Singing and dancing are an important part of Naga life. The Angami Naga, for example, have love songs, songs to be performed at particular gennas (rites), songs to be sung in the fields, songs for pounding rice, etc. All the Naga tribes have oral traditions of myth, folk tales, and songs that embody the legendary history and beliefs of the Naga people.


The Naga practice shifting cultivation (jhum) and terraced agriculture by which they grow crops for trade as well as for their own consumption. They raise animals such as the mithan (a species of cattle, also known as the gayal), other types of cattle, and pigs for food. Their resources are often supplemented by hunting and gathering in the forest, though this is becoming less important. Dogs are kept for hunting as well as for food, although a Naga will never kill and eat his own hunting dogs. Spears, and now guns, are the weapons used for hunting. Killing fish by poison is common among the Naga tribes. With the spread of education, many Naga have taken to trade, government service, and other professions.


Naga engage in athletic contests very much like those found in the West. These include the high jump and the long jump. High-kicking is a game in which young men aim at a mark set on a tree, using either one leg or both legs. The mark is raised when it has been reached by the contestants. Some sports reflect the warlike past of the Naga. Wrestling is popular, as are spear-throwing competitions. The Kedohoh is a type of war dance, in which a young man, armed with shield and weapons, spins and utters shouts as if challenging enemy warriors. Young boys play fighting tops, the object being to set one's top spinning and knock over an opponent's top with it. Gambling with cowry shells is a popular pastime.


Access to modern forms of entertainment is restricted to those who can afford it. Otherwise, the Naga find their entertainment in their rituals and folk traditions. These include tribal legends, ceremonial dances, songs, community rituals, and the observance of religious and social ceremonies. Christians participate in the social activities of their churches.


The Naga weave cotton cloth, each tribe having its identifying colors and striped patterns. Their artistic and aesthetic sense is seen in their elaborate ceremonial dress, ornaments, wood-carvings, ritual objects, such as forked (Y-shaped) memorial and sacrificial posts, the abstract designs of animal heads that decorate their houses, and tattoos. The more utilitarian Naga crafts include the making of iron spearheads and weapons, clay pots, bamboo mats, and cane basketwork.


The Naga are caught up in the problems of political instability and ethnic conflict that characterize much of India's northeastern region. The dream of independence is still strong in the minds of the Naga, and separatists in Nagaland continue to resist the presence of India with force. Recently, several insurgent groups have coordinated their activities under the banner of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Indian security forces are carrying out operations against the guerrillas and have been accused of serious human rights violations by foreign observers. Matters are complicated by intertribal warfare. In Manipur State, for example, numerous incidents have occurred in which Naga have killed members of the Kiku tribe, and the Kiku have retaliated in kind. In addition, corruption and extortion are said to be commonplace in the government. The generally unsettled conditions have reportedly led to an increase of alcoholism and drug use among the Naga population.

The Naga Nationalist Union, a popular underground organization, put forward the following four reasons why Nagas should have a separate state:

  1. the Mongoloid Nagas are physically different from the Aryan Indians
  2. the Nagas are not Hindus and, therefore, do not practice Hinduism's prohibition on beef-eating
  3. the Hindu caste system goes against the egalitarian tribal system of the Nagas
  4. the Nagas should live in a democratic state that allows the free exchange of goods rather that a state that imposes taxes. All these reasons are based on the differing nature of Naga tribal society compared to the Hindu-dominated Union of India. One of the greatest fears of the Nagas is that they will lose their tribal identity in the face of domination by New Delhi.

The violent conflict among Naga rebel groups that differ on the future of the Naga people and state continues to be a problem. A Naga civil society tired of the ongoing violence continues to denounce the violence and condemns the killings, factional clashes and loss of innocent lives and loss of properties, and appeals for dialogue, peace, reconciliation, unity and good sense continue to pour in from greatly troubled Naga mass-based organizations. As recently as the summer of 2008, the Naga Students' Federation (NSF), an organization of 21 student unions, demanded that the ongoing violence in the Naga family must cease. However, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah has said the group would keep up its agitation as no alternative solution was in sight: "Nagas will have to go on fighting for their rights. This is a hard reality. So, we will have to go on resisting."

It seems no end is in sight to the struggle in Nagaland, though it is unlikely that New Delhi can accede to demands for Naga independence.


Even though Naga society is patriarchal in nature, the rigid hierarchical structure of Hindu society, based on caste is nonexistent in Naga society. The Nagas have a marked sense of "equality" based on community participation irrespective of sex, and they have hardly been influenced by the social stratification endemic in Hinduism and the Hindu caste system. By all considerations the Nagas still have a traditional society, although Christianity, education, urbanization have made considerable inroads into Naga society.

Women are regarded as playing a significant role in society. Traditional Naga culture and custom expect women to be obedient and humble, to perform the role of wife, mother, child-bearer, food producer and household manager. The mother is the first to rise before the crack of dawn and start a day's work and has the prime responsibility for looking after the children, caring for the sick, cooking, storing food, feeding domestic animals, fetching water, and cleaning and washing. Women do not inherit ancestral property and, though they do have the vote, are not well represented on the political scene. There is, however, no emphasis on the bearing of male children—in fact, Naga families tend to prefer that their firstborn be daughters.

Naga women have played an important role in keeping the peace process on track in Nagaland. Women have helped stop violence between competing Naga factions and also between Nagas and the Indian security forces. Women's organizations such as the Naga Mothers' Association (NMA) and the Naga Women's Union have been actively involved in negotiating and mediating for peace and justice for the Nagas, and, today, the NMA and Naga Women's Union, Manipur (NWUM) are participating in the on-going cease-fire between the government of India and the Naga insurgents. The Indian government and the NSCN (I-M) would find it difficult to walk away from the peace table without provoking widespread public disaffection, largely as a result or pressure brought by organizations such as the NWA and NWUM. Such women's groups were integral to sustaining the current cease-fire, despite the strains following the arrest of Muivah in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2000, tension over the territorial extension of the cease-fire to all Naga areas, and endemic cease-fire violations. The continued support of women's organizations will be critical to the success of any political solution negotiated between the government of India and the Naga insurgents.

However, despite their advantages, Naga women have to overcome the effects of the ongoing civil war. In addition, like many women in South Asia, they have to struggle with poverty, illiteracy, sexual discrimination, lack of inheritance, poor nutrition, and difficulty of access to health care facilities.


Aier, I. L. Contemporary Naga Social Formations and Ethnic Identity. New Delhi: Akansha Pub. House, 2006.

Elwin, Verrier. Nagaland. Shillong: P. Dutta, 1961.

Hutton, J. H. The Angami Nagas. 1921. Reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Ramunny, Murkot. The World of Nagas. New Delhi: Northern Book Centre, 1988.

Vitso, Adino. Customary Law and Women: the Chakhesang Nagas. New Delhi: Regency Publications, 2003.

Zehol, Lucy, ed. Women in Naga Society. New Delhi: Regency, 1998.

—by D. O. Lodrick


views updated May 09 2018

Nāga (Skt., ‘snake’; the Nāgās are derived from a different root).
1. In Indian mythology nāga is both snake and elephant, but especially mythical serpents. Sometimes nāgas are half-human and half-snake.

2. Devotees of an Indian snake cult, especially in the south, Bengal and Assam.

3. In Buddhism, Nāga is a half-human, half-divine figure. Mahānāga (Great Nāga) is an epithet of the Buddha and all who have passed beyond rebirth. In Tibetan Buddhism, nāgas are water deities who protect Buddhist scriptures until humans are ready to receive them.

4. A people and their country, in E. Assam, never fully assimilated into Hindu culture.