Naga people

The Nagas are various ethnic groups native to northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar. The groups have similar cultures and traditions, and form the majority of population in the Indian states of Nagaland and Manipur and Naga Self-Administered Zone of Myanmar; with significant populations in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India; Sagaing Region and Kachin State in Myanmar (Burma).

Naga people
Total population
c.2.9 million
Regions with significant populations
India2.5 million+[1]
          Arunachal Pradesh150,000+
          Naga SAZ120,000+[3]
          Sagaing DivisionN/A
          Kachin StateN/A
Naga, Northern Naga, Eastern Naga, Nagamese Creole, English
Christianity (majority); Animism; Heraka
Related ethnic groups
East Asians, Kachin, Tamans†, etc

The Nagas are divided into various Naga ethnic groups whose numbers and population are unclear. They each speak distinct Naga languages often unintelligible to the others, but all are loosely connected to each other.


The present day Naga people have historically been referred to by many names, like 'Noga' by Assamese,[4] 'Hao' by Manipuri[5] and 'Chin' by Burmese.[6] However, over time 'Naga' became the commonly accepted nomenclature, and was also used by the British. According to the Burma Gazetteer, the term 'Naga' is of doubtful origin and is used to describe hill tribes that occupy the country between the Chins in the south and Kachins (Singphos) in the Northeast.[7]



The Naga people love colour as is evident in the shawls designed and woven by women, and in the headgear that both sexes design. Clothing patterns are traditional to each group, and the cloths are woven by the women. They use beads in variety, profusion and complexity in their jewelry, along with a wide range of materials including glass, shell, stone, teeth or tusk, claws, horns, metal, bone, wood, seeds, hair, and fibre.[8]

According to Dr. Verrier Elwin, these groups made all the goods they used, as was once common in many traditional societies: "they have made their own cloth, their own hats and rain-coats; they have prepared their own medicines, their own cooking-vessels, their own substitutes for crockery.".[9] Craftwork includes the making of baskets, weaving of cloth, wood carving, pottery, metalwork, jewellery-making and bead-work.

Weaving of colorful woolen and cotton shawls is a central activity for women of all Nagas. One of the common features of Naga shawls is that three pieces are woven separately and stitched together. Weaving is an intricate and time consuming work and each shawl takes at least a few days to complete. Designs for shawls and wraparound garments (commonly called mekhala) are different for men and women.

Ancestral Naga Beads, Courtesy Wovensouls Collection

Among many groups the design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer. Some of the more known shawls include Tsüngkotepsü and Rongsü of the Aos; Sütam, Ethasü, Longpensü of the Lothas; Süpong of the Sangtams, Rongkhim and Tsüngrem Khim of the Yimkhiungs; and the Angami Lohe shawls with thick embroidered animal motifs.

Naga jewelry is an equally important part of identity, with the entire community wearing similar bead jewelry, specifically the necklace.[10]

The Indian Chamber of Commerce has filed an application seeking registration of traditional Naga shawls made in Nagaland with the Geographical Registry of India for Geographical Indication.[11]


Smoked pork with akhuni, a fermented soybean product

Naga cuisine is characterized by smoked and fermented foods.

Folk song and dance

Folk songs and dances are essential ingredients of the traditional Naga culture. The oral tradition is kept alive through the media of folk tales and songs. Naga folk songs are both romantic and historical, with songs narrating entire stories of famous ancestors and incidents. Seasonal songs describe activities done in a particular agricultural cycle. The early Western missionaries opposed the use of folk songs by Naga Christians as they were perceived to be associated with spirit worship, war, and immorality. As a result, translated versions of Western hymns were introduced, leading to the slow disappearance of indigenous music from the Naga hills.[12]

Folk dances of the Nagas are mostly performed in groups in synchronized fashion, by both men and women, depending on the type of dance. Dances are usually performed at festivals and religious occasions. War dances are performed mostly by men and are athletic and martial in style. All dances are accompanied by songs and war cries by the dancers. Indigenous musical instruments made and used by the people are tati, bamboo mouth organs, bamboo flutes, trumpets, drums made of cattle skin and log drums.[13]


The various Naga groups have their own distinct festivals. To promote inter-group interaction, the Government of Nagaland has organized the annual Hornbill Festival since 2000. Another inter-ethnic festival is Lui Ngai Ni. The group-specific festivals include:[14]

Hornbill Festival
Festival Ethnic group Time Major center
Aoleang Konyak April (first week) Mon
Chagaa, Gaan-Ngai, Hega n'gi, Mlei-Ngyi Zeliangrong Communities - (Liangmei, Rongmei, and Zeme) December (last week), 10 March for Melei-Ngyi TamenglongCachar, Peren
Chavan Kumhrin Anāl October (23) Chandel
Chiithuni Mao January (7) Mao
Luira Phanit Tangkhul February/March Ukhrul
Metümnyo Yimkhiung August (second week) Shamator
Miu Khiamniungan May (second week) Noklak
Moatsü Ao May (first week) Mokokchung
Mungmung Sangtam September (first week) Kiphire
Monyü Phom April (first week) Longleng
Naknyulüm Chang July (second week) Tuensang
Ngada Rengma November (last week) Tseminyü
Sekrenyi Angami February Kohima, Chümoukedima
Sükhrünyie, Tsükhenyie Chakhesang January & March/April Phek
Thounii Poumai January (18th to 22nd) Senapati
Tokhü Emong Lotha November (first week) Wokha
Tülüni, Ahuna Sümi July Zünheboto
Yemshi Pochury September/October Phek

Ethnic groups

The word Naga originated as an exonym.[15] Today, it covers a number of ethnic groups that reside in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states of India, and also in Myanmar.

Chang Naga cultural troupe

Before the arrival of the British, the term "Naga" was used by Assamese to refer to certain isolated ethnic groups. The British adopted this term for a number of ethnic groups in the surrounding area, based on loose linguistic and cultural associations. The number of groups classified as "Naga" grew significantly in the 20th century: as of December 2015, 89 groups are classified as Naga by the various sources. This expansion in the "Naga" identity has been due to a number of factors including the quest for upward mobility in the society of Nagaland, and the desire to establish a common purpose of resistance against dominance by other groups. In this way, the "Naga" identity has not always been fixed.[16]

Nagas in India

Nagas are present in all Northeast Indian States except Tripura and are listed as scheduled tribes in other 6 Northeastern States: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland[17]

Nagas in Myanmar

Nagas in Myanmar are mostly found in Sagaing Division and Kachin state. The Naga territory in Myanmar is marked by Kabaw valley in the south bordering to the Chin state, the Kachin on the north and the Burmese on the east.[18]

The Major Naga ethnic groups in Myanmar are:

  1. Konyak (Chen)
  2. Lainong (Htangan)
  3. Makury
  4. Nokko (Khiamniungan)
  5. Para
  6. Somra Tangkhul
  7. Tangshang

Some other minor Naga groups are Anāl, Lamkang, Moyon, Koka (sometimes spelt as Goga or Koki), Longphuri, Paung Nyuan (Makhyam), etc

The townships which are inhabited by the Nagas are:

  1. Homalin
  2. Lahe with Tanbakwe sub-township
  3. Layshi with Mowailut sub-township and Somra sub-township
  4. Hkamti
  5. Nanyun with Pangsau and Dunghi sub-township
  6. Tamu of Sagaing Division and
  7. Tanai of Kachin state

Anāl and Moyon are mainly found in Tamu township on the south and a few Somra Nagas are also found in and around Tamu bordering to Layshi jurisdiction. Makury, Para and Somra tribes are mainly found in Layshi township. Makury Nagas and a few Somra Nagas are also found in Homalin township. Lahe is highly populated by Konyak, Nokko, Lainong and Makury tribes. Nanyun on the north is the home of Tangshang tribe which comprises more than 54 sub-dialect groups. Homlin township is highly populated by the considered lost tribes (Red Shans). But Kukis, Burmese, Chinese and Indians are also found there. Hkamti township is populated altogether by all the Naga tribes majority and with a number of Burmese, Shans, Chinese and Indians. Tanai in Kachin state of Myanmar is inhabited by the Tangshang Nagas among the Kachin people.


The Naga languages are either classified under the Chin-Naga languages or the Sal languages.

Nagas have more language diversity than any other ethnic group or states in India. Naga people speak over 89 different languages and dialects, mostly unintelligible with each other. However, there are many similarities in between different languages spoken by them. The diversity of languages and traditions of the Nagas results most likely from the multiple cultural absorptions that occurred during their successive migrations. According to legend, before settling in the region, these groups moved over vast zones, and in the process, some clans were absorbed into one or more other groups. Therefore, until recent times, absorptions were a source of many interclan conflicts.[19]

In 1967, the Nagaland Assembly proclaimed English as the official language of Nagaland and it is the medium for education in Nagaland. Other than English, Nagamese, a creole language form of the Assamese language, is a widely spoken language. Every community has its own mother tongue but communicates with other communities in either Nagamese or English. However, English is the predominant spoken and written language in Nagaland. Hindi is also taught along with English in most schools and most Nagas prefer to used Hindi to communicate with the migrant workers of the state, that primarily comes from Bihar, UP and Madhya Pradesh. Hindi in India has been made official until class 10[20]

See also

  • History of the Nagas
  • List of Naga tribes
  • List of Naga languages
  • List of Naga people


  1. "Census of India". Census India. MHA, Govt of India. Archived from the original on 27 April 2020. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  2. "Naga ethnic group Myanmar". 13 November 2014. Archived from the original on 11 October 2022. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  3. "Nagas of Myanmar". Archived from the original on 11 October 2022. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  4. Grierson. Linguistic Survey of India Vol iii part ii. p. 194.
  5. Hodson, TC (1911). The Naga tribes of Manipur. p. 9.
  6. Upper Chindwin District vol A. Burma Gazetteer. p. 22.
  7. Burma Gazetteer, Upper chindwin vol A. page 23. published 1913
  8. Ao, Ayinla Shilu. Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self (The Bead Society of Greater Washington. September 2003) ISBN 0-9725066-2-4
  9. "Arts and crafts of the Nagas" Archived 19 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Nagaland, Retrieved 23 June 2009
  10. Koiso, Manabu; Endo, Hitoshi. "Necklace of ethnic groups of Naga, India: their meaning and function through time". Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  11. "Naga shawls in for geographical registration",, 7 April 2008
  12. Shikhu, Inato Yekheto. A Re-discovery and Re-building of Naga Cultural Values: An Analytical Approach with Special Reference to Maori as a Colonized and Minority Group of People in New Zealand (Daya Books, 2007), p. 210
  13. Mongro, Kajen & Ao, A Lanunungsang. Naga Cultural Attires and Musical Instruments (Concept Publishing Company, 1999), ISBN 81-7022-793-3
  14. "Tourism: General Information". Government of Nagaland. Archived from the original on 30 October 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  15. Christopher Moseley (6 December 2012). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Routledge. pp. 572–. ISBN 978-1-135-79640-2. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  16. Arkotong Longkumer (4 May 2010). Reform, Identity and Narratives of Belonging: The Heraka Movement in Northeast India. Continuum. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-0-8264-3970-3. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  17. Scheduled tribes Archived 31 January 2022 at the Wayback Machine (PDF)
  18. "India News, Nagaland News, Breaking News |". Archived from the original on 26 October 2019. Retrieved 26 October 2019.
  19. Drouyer, Azevedo, Isabel, Drouyer, René, THE NAGAS -MEMORIES OF HEADHUNTERS vol.1, White Lotus, 2016, p. 7
  20. Scroll Staff. "Hindi will be made compulsory in northeastern states till Class 10, says Amit Shah". Archived from the original on 18 April 2022. Retrieved 18 April 2022.

Further reading

  • Drouyer, A. Isabel, Drouyer René, " THE NAGAS: MEMORIES OF HEADHUNTERS- Indo-Burmese Borderlands vol.1"; White Lotus, 2016, ISBN 978-2-9545112-2-1.
  • Wettstein, Marion. 2014. Naga Textiles: Design, Technique, Meaning and Effect of a Local Craft Tradition in Northeast India. Arnoldsche, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-89790-419-4.
  • von Stockhausen, Alban. 2014. Imag(in)ing the Nagas: The Pictorial Ethnography of Hans-Eberhard Kauffmann and Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf. Arnoldsche, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-89790-412-5.
  • Shongzan, Mayaso, "A Portrait of the Tangkhul Nagas"; Exodus, 2013, ISBN 978-81-929139-0-2.
  • Stirn, Aglaja & Peter van Ham. The Hidden world of the Naga: Living Traditions in Northeast India. London: Prestel.
  • Oppitz, Michael, Thomas Kaiser, Alban von Stockhausen & Marion Wettstein. 2008. Naga Identities: Changing Local Cultures in the Northeast of India. Gent: Snoeck Publishers.
  • Kunz, Richard & Vibha Joshi. 2008. Naga – A Forgotten Mountain Region Rediscovered. Basel: Merian.
  • Singh, Waikhom Damodar (21 June 2002). "The Indo - Naga Ceasefire Agreement". Manipur Online (originally published in The Sangai Express). Archived from the original on 26 May 2005.
  • Shimray, Atai, A.S. - "Let freedom ring?: Story of Naga nationalism".


  • Ben Doherty, Nagaland, Wild Dingo Press, Melbourne, 2018, ISBN 978-0-6480-6637-8.
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