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To The Roots Image Credit: Smart Photography
To The Roots Image Credit: Smart Photography

To The Roots

The Konyaks — Last of the Tattooed Headhunters, a book by Phejin Konyak, is a documentation of the tattoo culture which has become a vanishing art in our society.

Unnati Sagar

An ode to her great grandfathers and the headhunting tribes of Nagaland, the book takes you back in time when the fearsome Nagas walked the lands, on the northeastern edge of the Indian map. Known to all for their fierce and unforgiving nature, the headhunters of Nagaland were the purveyors of a tattoo tradition which was the fundamental part of the Konyak society.

Isolated from the influence of the outside world, the Konyaks were the last of the tribes to transcend to modernity. Headhunting and tattooing were a quintessential aspect of their lives. After the advent of British Administration in India, head hunting began declining and so did the tattoo culture. This 195-page book traces Phejin’s journey as she tries to document the historic yarns of her ancestors. The Konyaks is a book which gives you an almost encyclopedic knowledge about a cultural practice, long-lost in the realms of modernism.

These groups of people who are now affiliated by a common Konyak tribal identity were in fact different entities. As you read further, you get a deeper insight into the distinction between the origins of these tribes based on the part of their body which has been tattooed. There are three groups or tribes mentioned herein: face tattoo group, body tattoo group and nose tattoo group.

The seemingly different practices of headhunting and tattooing are in fact deeply intertwined. The Konyaks celebrat


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