August 9, 2021

Headhunters of Nagaland with Ila Reddy

This week, The Musafir Stories speaks to Ila Reddy, as she takes us on a trip to the land of the Headhunters, Nagaland!


Answer 3 simple questions and stand a chance to win a copy of the book “The Konyaks: Last of the tattooed Headhunters

Today's destination: Nagaland
Nearest Airport: Dimapur Airport, DMU
Nearest Railway Station: Dimapur Railway Station, DMV

Prerequisites -

Inner line permit is required. Can be applied at
Packing - Pack according to the weather.
Time of the year - First week of April
Length of the itinerary: 6 days

Itinerary Highlights:
Ila talks about the planning for this trip and more about her larger itinerary that included Kaziranga National Park, Majuli island and finishing off at Mon district in Nagaland to celebrate the Aoleng festival of the konyaks. We discuss more about the Konyaks and their unique tradition and culture including the tradition of body tattoos, large ear piercings and headhunting.
The headhunting tradition, where warring factions would kill and carry the heads of opponents as it was believed to bring good luck, prosperity and fertility to the village. The practice started to decline after Christianity was brought to the area by the British, and stopped in the 1970’s. The Konyaks are one of the biggest of the tribes of Nagaland and are mostly situated in the Mon district of Nagaland. The last surviving head-hunters of Nagaland are in their 80s and 90s. The group planned to spend time interacting with the Konyaks during their Aoling festival that is celebrated before the harvest season to welcome spring and the new year. The festival is celebrated in the first week of April. The week-long festival includes music, dancing, feasting, sacrifices and traditional rituals. The preparation includes new clothes, food, rice beer, dressing up with the traditional clothes and headgear.
Ila and the group spend time across three different villages participating in the celebrations. The trip starts off at the Shiyong, spending time at the tea estate of Phejin Konyak, a great granddaughter of a popular headhunter and author of “The Konyaks: Last of the tattooed headhunters”, among the views and the welcoming locals. After Shiong, the group spent time at Hongphoi & Wanchin - two smaller villages. Most of the octogenarian headhunters were in Hongphoi. The celebrations were more intimate and on a smaller scale. Ila also has the opportunity to engage in playing the traditional log drums during the festival. The next stop was at Longwa, which is at the Indo-Burmese borders. The celebration appears to be a bit more aggressive with gun totting Nagas who set off celebratory fire shots. The village was also unique given it was bordering Myanmar, giving access to some local delicacies. The Anghs or the chieftain’s house is half in India and half in Myanmar, and the locals are free to move about to the neighbouring village to visit relatives.
Ila also spends some time visiting the local gunsmiths and craftsmen, who are popular for wooden products. We also discuss the effect of opium addiction as a part of the Naga lifestyle. We wrap up by discussing the Naga kitchen and its importance as being the centre of the Naga household where the family members spend most time in. The delicacies include non-vegetarian and vegetarian dishes along with the local rice beer.

Ila’s blog:
Link to blogpost:
Link to the book - The Konyaks: Last of the tattooed Headhunters:

Image credits Ila Reddy

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