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Himalaya

Day 91: Longwa

Longwa, Nagaland and Assam 
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Belly up. Konyak Naga head-hunter outdoes me in stomach decoration. Nor are my Paul Smith belt and Craghopper trouser any match for his hornbill feather, wild boar's teeth and neck-chain showing he's taken five heads.
Michael Palin - HimalayaOne very senior citizen leans proudly on an old flintlock rifle. Bamboo sticks have worn long, distended holes in his earlobes. He has skull medallions round his neck and is clearly very proud of his hunting past. He obligingly confirms that he has taken five heads.

His face, like those of many of the older generation, has what looks like a black stain running across it. On closer examination I see these are tattoos and not black but deep indigo, made of a number of very fine pin-prick marks. He pulls aside his shawl to show me that the tattoos extend across his chest and stomach and round onto his back. The old man knows Shingwong. He used to help his father, a surveyor working for the British on the first maps of Nagaland. He says he was ten years old when he first saw an Englishman. At first he had been frightened to go near them, they were so white he assumed they had no blood.

I ask if this old man with the skulls round his neck and headdress of boar's teeth and hornbill feathers is now a Christian and he nods emphatically.

Shingwong thinks that conversion was made easier among the Nagas because their belief system was always based around one invisible god, one creator, which made the transition to Christianity seem less drastic.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 91: Longwa
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Longwa
  • Book page no: 212

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