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Geography of Nagaland | Location, People and Culture | North East India Info

Nagaland is a state in the far north-eastern part of India. It borders the state of Assam to the west, Arunachal Pradesh and part of Assam to the north, Burma to the east and Manipur to the south. The state capital is Kohima, and the largest city is Dimapur. The state of Nagaland has an area of 16,579 km2 with a population of 1,980,602 as per the 2011 census making it one of the smallest states of  India.  

Tradition of Nagaland

It is a largely mountainous state.  Agriculture is the most important economic activity in Nagaland.  Principal crops include rice, corn, millets, pulses, tobacco, oilseeds, sugarcane, potatoes and fibres. Other economy boosters are forestry, cottage industries, insurance, real estate and tourism.  

Nagaland comprises of a part of the hill ranges, which separates the basins of three major rivers- the Brahmaputra, the Chindwin and the Barak. 

There are around 1,317 villages in Nagaland. About 150 of these are located in the foothills, along the state’s boundary with Assam in the west. The remaining villages are located on the top of ridges or on slopes, at altitudes of 500 to 2,500 meters above mean sea level. 

As a rule, people who exclusively practice the slash and burn method of cultivation prefer to locate their villages on the top of ridges and those with extensive mountain slope paddy terraces prefer to locate their village on the slope. 

For the latter, the location of the village marks the boundary between forest land and cultivated land like other inhabitants of the northeastern region. 

Nagas too have their share of legend and folklore regarding their origin and evolution through the ages. Nagas are basically tribal people and every tribe had its own effective system of self-governance from time immemorial. 

The present Nagaland was only a district called “Naga Hills” within the state of Assam till 1957. It was put under the administration of the Ministry of External Affairs with the nomenclature of Naga Hills Tuensang Area (NHTA) from December 1st, 1957 to 18th February 1961. 

In the 12th and 13th centuries, gradual contact with the Ahoms of present-day, Assam was established but this did not have any significant impact on the traditional Naga way of life. 

However, in the 19th century the British appeared on the scene and ultimately the area was brought under British administration. After Independence, this territory was made a centrally administered area in 1957, administered by the Governor of Assam. 

It was known as the Naga Hills Tuensang Area. This failed to quell popular aspirations and unrest began. Hence in 1961 this was renamed as Nagaland and given the status of State of the Indian union which was formally inaugurated on 1 December, 1st 1963.

The state is inhabited by 16 tribes — Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Dimasa, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchunger, and Zeme-Liangmai (Zeliang) Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, language and dress. 

Two threads common to all are language and religion. English is the official language, the language of education, and spoken by most residents. Nagaland is one of three states in India where the population is mostly Christian. 

The Naga people are various individuals or ethnic groups conglomerating of several tribes associated to the North-Eastern part of India and north-western Myanmar. 

The tribes have similar cultures and traditions, and form a significant population in the Indian state of Nagaland, with significant population in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam. 

The Naga speak various distinct Tibeto-Burman languages, including Anāl, Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Lotha, Mao (Emela), Maram, Phom, Pochuri, Poumai (Poula), Phom, Rengma, Rongmei (Ruangmei), Sangtam, Sumi, Tangkhul, Thangal and Zeme. In addition, the Naga have developed Nagamese Creole, which they use between various indigenous communities and villages, which each have their own dialect of language. 

As of 2012, the state of Nagaland officially recognises 16 Naga tribes. In addition, some other Naga tribes are living in the contiguous adjoining states of Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh, India and across the border in Myanmar. Prominent Naga tribes includes Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Lotha, Mao, Maram Naga, Phom, Pochury, Poumai, Rengma, Rongmei, Sangtam, Sumi, Tangkhul, Thangal, Yimchunger and Zeliang. 

The Naga tribes practiced headhunting and preserved the heads of enemies as trophies through the 19th century and as late as 1969. 

Generally, the traditional customs of the Naga, as well as their lifestyle, are very similar to those of the Wa people further to the Southeast and the numerous parallels between the societies and traditions of the Naga and the Wa have been pointed out by anthropologists J. P. Mills and J. H. Hutton. 

The Nagas are organized by tribes differentiated by language and some traditions. They have a strong warrior tradition. 

Their villages are sited on hilltops and until the later part of the 19th century, they made frequent armed raids to villages on the plains below. 

The tribe's exhibit variation to a certain degree, particularly in their languages and some traditional practices. Similarities in their culture distinguish them from the neighboring occupants of the region, who are of other ethnicities. 

Almost all these Naga tribes have a similar dress code, eating habits, customs, traditional laws, etc. One distinction was their ritual practice of headhunting, once prevalent among tribal warriors in Nagaland and Naga areas in Manipur, Tirap, Changlang, Longding, and among the Naga tribes in Myanmar. 

They used to take the heads of enemies to take on their power. They no longer practice this ritual. 

Today the Naga people number around 4 million in total. The men's clothing is distinctive: conical red headgear is decorated with wild-boar canine teeth and white-black hornbill feathers. 

Their weapons are primarily a spear, with the shaft decorated with red-black hair, and the machete (dah), with a broad blade and long handle. 

However, Nagas today have culturally much westernized and traditional dresses are rarely used except during their traditional festivals.

To study more about Nagaland, some books recommendation given below. These are also used as references for this article. So, I highly recommend you go through these books. For details click the book title.

Picture Credit
Vikramjit Kakati - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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