It’s not everyday that you find yourself being offered tea and fire-popped corn by a Naga Angh (headman) in his opium den.
And when that happens, do you? –
- a) Say no thanks (and risk offending the chief of a once-were-headhunters tribe)?
- b) Take the tea and say thanks. (and hope that the tea is not laced with something)?
- c) Ask if you could try some of what he is having? 😛
Last Sunday morning, I went with option B.
2 hours further up from Mon, I rode out to 2 Naga villages of the Konyak tribe. Tamgnyu’s new Angh has only been in power since 2009 when his father passed away and I’m not sure if he fully understands the magnitude of the title that has been passed onto his shoulders.
His opium den also the front room of his home is dark. All windows are shut. But they can’t keep the Sunday church songs from floating in from a nearby church. Despite the tribal history, much of Nagaland has now converted to Christianity. I can’t help but compare the similarities of a Naga village to a Fijian koro and wonder if there is any history of connection between these two tribal clans of people.
In the middle of the room, a small fire is crackling with hunted game skeletons of the past, hanging over. He has two minions who prepare his ‘fix’ every 5 minutes.
The process is; he puffs the fix from the bamboo bong then he drinks some of the tea that is brewing in another bamboo pipe over the fire and then puffs a few more times till it’s all gone. Drinks more tea. Then he lights a rolled smoke till that finishes. Then repeats the entire process again. I watched this process repeat 3 times.
He could speak little Hindi and with glazed eyes made small talk. Others floated in and out of the house with mild curious glances towards us. After a solid 15 minutes and repeated rounds of shooting up, he asked so what is it that you are here for? Errrr….bolo. Koi worry nahi. This is my area. Charas, afeem, ganja – kya? (hash, opium, marijuana – what?)
Well dear reader just in case you missed it, I must have passed the character test of a bona-fide middleman and if you ever need someone to go in….
Not sure how to respond, I glance sideways to my ‘guide’. A 24-year old fixed by ‘aunty’ (next post). Guide explains in Naga dialect that I was here for the skeletons. Heeyt! Spat the Aung. Deeply disappointed and bewildered that I had risked coming all the way to Tamgnyu (somewhere along the India/Myanmar border where Google maps wouldn’t dare to go) for some bones??!
All put away, he said. Church causing too much pressure. The we had to wait for him to take his next fix. All the opium smoke slowly soaked into me; my clothes, hair, skin…and I sunk a little deeper into the plastic chair. Now I was disappointed – no displays of humans hunts, like the game one creaking on top of our heads.
More tea sipping. Eating more popcorn (did I mention I loveee popcorn. Suruj and I spend many an afternoon over tea, popcorn and discussing her children’s issues.)
Only for you, I show. But only head – no body. ok?
You want this? 100 rupees each. Waving rolls of cloth. (No I don’t want your opium. Australian quarantine will smell that from 1000 miles away before I reach customs.) But I still gave him 200 rupees. We had to wait till church was over.
Then he took us past his father’s grave, past the pig sty, past the toilets and told us to wait. There’s a bite in the mountain air and the overcast day provided a perfect eery set for a viewing of human skulls. From underneath some stones, he quickly pulls out 2 heads and lets me take pictures and then shoves them back again before anyone could see.
Headhunting was a ferocious Konyak practice before it was declared illegal by the Indian government after 1950 sometime. Technically there are people still alive in Tamgnyu and Longwa (next village) who have umm..headhunted other people. Read about headhunting history in Nagaland here.
We wave him goodbye on the way back. The guide and I lock eyes. Something about human bones and being a village full of headhunters in the remotest hills of India and Myanmar…wordlessly we double up to find our Bihari van driver and got the hell out of there!
Till the next installment, I leave you with a new mainstream Bollywood trance track. It’s quite catchy…and appropriate for this post!