5 1 2017

Introduction to Nagas in the 21st Century

Jelle JP Wouters, Michael Heneise


The title of this special issue; ‘Nagas in the 21st Century’, is both an adaptation and a (modest) self-proclaimed sequel to Verrier Elwin’s (1969) iconic Nagas in the Nineteenth Century. In this anthology, Elwin introduces and brings together a collection of administrative reports, tour diaries, and ethnographic descriptions on Naga tribes, all written in the 19th century. During the colonial era Naga tribes turned into an ethnological hotbed, even a cradle of British social anthropology. Back then, writings on Nagas were many, varied and colorful, and included rituals and religion, political structures and sentiments, taboos and omens, dress and ornaments, funeral customs, head-hunting, monolithic cultures, and so on. This ubiquity of colonial accounts, however, contrasts starkly with the scant material generated during the post-colonial period. In fact, as a corollary of the protracted Indo-Naga conflict scholars working on Nagas now grapple with a decades-wide ethnographic void. This, however, is now starting to change. The contributors to this special issue take Elwin’s anthology, or other colonial sources, as a point of reference, and then link these texts to their own areas of research, offering critiques, comparisons, and contrasts as they proceed. Taken together, the articles aim to offer a set of insights and new departures into the study of contemporary Naga society.


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