Longwa Village: Home to the Ex-Headhunters of Nagaland

I’m a faffer, I always have been. I like to unpack, organise, repack and do it all over again so when my guide knocked on the door at 8am I’d been up, but was faffing. We hadn’t agreed on a meeting time, yet, he seemed pissed that he’d got up 6am, it was as if I’d woken him with a steel band or something.

After breakfast, which was leftovers from the previous nights dinner (rice, dal, veg and chicken), we set off for Le Grande Tour of Longwa.

First to the Chiefs house. As we neared, the sound of gongs and torrets-like shouting filled our ears.

The Chiefs wife had just given birth to a baby boy and celebrations were in tow. The Chief is father to 5 daughters already, but the birth of a boy gives heir to the ‘throne’.

We sat on plastic chairs and watched as the most important men in the village sat on tiny stools in a dark and dingey den, taking it in turns to cook and smoke opium through a huge wooden pipe, using embers of ash on the end of a pair of bamboo tongs to light it.

Every now and then a new man would enter, hand the Chief some cash and join the circle.

Prior to visiting I was told I should give a monetary ‘gift’ to the Chief as I was visiting ‘his’ village. I’d read accounts of people who advise the same so accepted this was to be done. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d want to give money to less in that village, than the Chief himself, but gave him 200rps anyway as I was stuck there for 2 days.

It was a brief exchange, he wore sports shorts, a navy t-shirt and a khaki cotton gilet – the type your guide would wear on safari – a name badge presented itself in his right breast.

I congratulated him on the birth of his son, gave him the folded notes and he stared at me with purple hammocks hanging beneath his glazed eyes.

We had a look around his new house – built by and paid for by the Indian Government – it was due to be finished within the week, and there was a grand opening party scheduled for Friday.

The entrance sported an intricately detailed engraved wooden door with scenes of warriors and traditionally dressed Konyak tribesmen/women, whilst inside boasted a grand display of animal skulls and metal gongs. A long solid wood day bed with the head and tail of a tiger presented itself in the lobby. It was a gift from Kohima, carved out of a single tree.

The house stretched back so far that it resembled a town hall rather than the home of a single family. I didn’t see past the lobby, but haven’t a doubt they screamed wealth too.

As we were leaving, a tattooed faced man, dressed in traditional gear approached the house shouting and waving a cleaver in the air. Having not been told he was very happy and giving blessings for the birth of the baby, I would have assumed he had come to chop someone’s head off for shagging his wife or something.


We visited the metal makers and the gun makers. I sat and watched whilst my guide chatted for way longer than I cared to be stuck inside a dark and dingey room whilst the sun shone outside. 

It felt like I was following an older cousin around that has been told to look after me. I was hanging around whilst he conducted his daily tasks. He answered a lot of my questions with yes; I couldn’t tell whether he didn’t understand or didn’t listen in the first place. When a third party was involved, rather than translating the question and relaying the answers, he simply made up the answer without any enquiry.

Finding solace in my surroundings, I took a lone stroll up the hill to watch the sunset.

Three boys, no older than 13 sprung by, spirits high in song, two paraded guns, the third a weaved basket backpack – with the head and tail of a limp raccoon peaking over the top.

Although headhunting is no longer a thing, it appears that the cold-hearted, fierce ‘warrior’ mentality lives on.

Gates are locked at night and people daren’t venture out past dark. I found myself wishing I’d stayed in Khonoma instead.

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