"In a minute I want to gather in the fellowship of Lord Jesus, sing Hallelujah and pray together,” said the chief. “But first let me tell you how I hunted my first human head.”
Chief Chen-O Khuzuthrupa of the Konyak tribe and I were talking in a dark, smoky bamboo-lattice longhouse, in the village of Chen Wetnyu, high in the Mon hills of Nagaland. The 98-year-old, lit by the chiaroscuro of a single beam of sunlight from one small smokehole in the roof, spoke softly and sat stiffly on his throne by the firepit. He was formally dressed to receive us in an outsized mink jacket with gleaming brass buttons and matching mink hat. Around his neck hung a necklace of boar tusks terminating in four brass skulls.
“I took eight heads in all,” he continued. “But the first was the one I’ll never forget. I was only 28 and when I came safely back, holding it in my hands, I can tell you — I had the pick of all the prettiest girls in our tribe!”
His face broke into a broad smile. Around us hung rice baskets, elephant-hide shields, ivory tusks, spears, tridents and gleaming ceremonial nipple-gongs of beaten brass. Outside, through the gate, the walls were decorated with the vast horns of the mithun — or wild oxen — that the Konyak had once hunted with almost as much delight as they had hunted their neighbouring tribesmen. Until recently, the decapitated heads of those neighbours had been on display next door, but the skull house had now been locked up, at the request of Christian missionaries.
This extract is taken from William Dalrymple's article in the FT on 1 October 2016 based on his trip to India with Natural High. Conact us to plan and book your own tailor-made exploration of Nagaland. To see the whole article and read more please visit the Financial Times website (subscription required)
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Posted by: Andrea Hulme