The Last Thugs of the World
The head possesses magical power. It does not lose this power even if it is separated from the body. Only then will it serve its new owner. This was the belief of the Konyaks, a tribe in India, who until a few decades ago used to chop up and collect the skulls of their enemies. Today they have abandoned this practice and are trying to adapt to a world that has entered the age of globalization.
They cut off the last trophy heads long ago, but there are still tattoos around the eyes of the cognacs, which can only be described as the mark of death. They beheaded their enemies because, they believed, it is in the skull that all the power of a living creature is preserved. And the severed head of the enemy would not be superfluous at all if buried in their own land – it would only add “wisdom and fertility” to the soil. And some believed that it would be useful to hang the skulls freed from the brain on the outer fence of one’s dwelling. This not only raised the prestige of the cutthroat, but also served as a warning to enemies: better not to pry, you see how it may end. Today those who once beheaded are in their seventies, but their memory is strong and retains memories of cruel, distant times when, as children, they learned to kill and cut. It was part of the military training program.
The Konyaks live in the border area near the border between India and Burma, which recently became Myanmar. They preferred (and continue to prefer) to settle at higher elevations. You can see the enemy’s approach better from a hill. Moreover, repulsing an attack from a hill is a lot easier than on a plain or in a hollow in general.
Under a bamboo canopy sheltering from the blazing Indian sun, some old cognac men from the Chengwetnul, Nagaland, community reminisce about “the days and battles they fought together. No complaints about Alzheimer’s: everyone remembers the first time they ever beheaded an enemy. How they held the enemy by the hair and slit his neck with a move honed by long studies. This is how they competed with each other in search of recognition and power. When they returned home from the battlefield, they feasted on buffalo meat and drank rice wine as if nothing had happened, and then proceeded to boil and peel the skulls to hang them in the baan (common hut) as a collective totem.
The next day, the new thug was thrown on the ground with his back to his family, his arms and legs firmly grasped, and the village tattoo artist used rattan palm thorns to pierce the “death mask” on his face with needles. The operation was quite painful. Shouting was considered indecent for a real fighter, but not everyone could restrain himself, so the initiated warrior’s mouth was carefully covered with cloth to muffle the sounds that flew out of the throat of the tattooed cognac. The rite of passage into adulthood in the tribe was, needless to say, brutal.
As the cognac’s face gradually became covered with more and more tattoos as he “achieved professional success.
The men received their first identifying marks at the age of 13 to 15 years after taking part in some battle (naturally, with the presentation of severed heads).
The women of the tribe were also tattooed, but not on their faces. It had nothing to do with combat: already at the age of ten, girls had marks on their hands and feet indicating their marital status.
The surviving head-cutters complain that those they killed long ago come to them in their dreams, in occasional nightmares. And upon awakening, they see their faces in mirrors, “decorated” with ink drawn from red cedar. Evidence of former successes, which nothing can wash away, have turned from marks of glory and valor into a symbol of a silent, beating reproach to the very brain.
Thank God, the years of war and carnage are over,” recalls Chen-o Huzutruapa, former leader of the Chengwetnul warriors and today an evangelical pastor. – We all lived in fear of being caught off guard and losing our heads in the truest sense of the word. But that’s a thing of the past.”
And old cognac men don’t particularly like to talk about the past.
Brandywine women are more respected than other groups of women in India’s deeply patriarchal and caste-divided society. In the villages, they still spend most of their lives working in the fields, weaving, and taking care of everything related to home and family. In the late 1990s, the Konyak women’s community took a turn toward modernity: they began to insist on girls’ education, organized a movement to ban alcohol consumption, and questioned the patriarchal way of life of the tribe. In 1992 the number of educated women was less than 2 percent; now it is approaching 60 percent.
Where did the cognacs come from.
The history of the tribe began more than a thousand years ago when the Konyaks, the largest of the sixteen tribes belonging to the Naga ethnic group, migrated from China to the southern bank of the Brahmaputra River. For centuries the Naga tribes “boiled in their own cauldron” – living isolated from the rest of the world in a vast region of jungle and tropical mountains until the British came into contact with them in the 19th century. At that time each clan was essentially a separate state, and war was the main form of contact between the tribes, who had no thought of making peace. Even the arrival of the English conquerors did not encourage the Naga to unite in the face of a common enemy. However, the Aborigines fought well on their own: it took 50 bloody years for the newcomers to subdue the Naga. But even after that, some tribes living in inaccessible regions remained outside the jurisdiction of the British Empire.
In 1947, the Naga declared independence – just four days before India declared its own independence from Britain. The Naga (and the Cognacs among them) tried to rid themselves not only of the rule of the outgoing London, but also of Delhi, which had replaced it. But the repression by Jawaharlal Nehru’s government in response to the armed rebellion of the seven states of the Northeast that broke out in 1954 reduced communication between the various Naga tribes to an “armed distrustful minimum.
As the fight against the rebels dragged on, the pent-up rivalry between Nagaland’s clans flared up again. The guerrillas split into factions that mostly spent their time fighting each other over control of territory, the right to collect taxes, and to represent their interests in the corridors of central power. And they made little or no attempt to realize the original idea of the rebellion – the unification of all the Nagas of Burma and the four Indian states (that’s 3 million people).
The conflict is still going on and can already safely claim the title of the oldest armed insurgency on the planet, and therefore be entered under this title in the Guinness Book of Records.
“The current situation, after 22 years of peace negotiations, is much calmer than in the sixties, when there was a strong confrontation between the Konyak and Chang tribes,” explains Phejin Konyak. – Beheading, which had been abandoned decades before, was then revived as a common practice for both groups. The last evidence I have of beheading dates back to 1990, although it is thought that there were sporadic cases until 2005. The tribes settled their grievances against each other in this way and “reduced to parity” their personal accounts.
“Traditions not worth being proud of.”
Chenwetnul elders now look on that brutal past with indignation. ” Our history is marked by hatred. There is nothing to be proud of. I am glad that time is dying with us. There’s no point in fighting for something that only hurts us anymore.” says Pinchei Pongialim, a seventy-year-old cognac from “the former.
Putting an end to tribal feuds and barbaric practices was helped by religion. Even the colonizing English sent dozens of missionaries to Nagaland, who were later joined by American Baptist preachers. The process of converting warlike tribes to Christianity was slow and difficult, but it was successful: Nagaland is now one of the largest Baptist parishes on the planet. Baptist Christians account for 90% of all Naga tribes, and 98% of the Konjacs. The new religion, according to Baptists, is a revival, and “conversion will make you a new person, which means the rejection of old traditions. Among the “old traditions” were number one beheadings and related tattoos. Now every cognac village is ruled by the church. Alcohol is forbidden, literacy exceeds 70 percent, and gospel hymns are played instead of the rumble of war drums.
“The arrival of evangelicals has changed our people,” reflects Fejin Konyak, an ethnographer who knows his people. – We can hold them responsible for the loss of our culture and identity, but through them unity and peace among the tribes was achieved.
With the support of the churches, young people organized into student groups put an end to the display of skulls in the villages. The few heads that were not buried are now on display in museums where travelers to Nagaland can learn about the history and traditions of the cognacs.
Many of the elders, former warrior leaders of their community, now serve as evangelical pastors. The traditional baan huts (where, remember, the skulls of defeated enemies were displayed) are no longer part of the landscape of the Cognac settlements – the ex-cons are now very pious and go to churches, which have become the main cultural centers of the villages.
Souvenir knives from artisans, and a couple of rare folk festivals from that era, and tribal elders – that’s all that reminds us today of the bloodthirsty past of the cognacs. The new generation, being educated, does not want to work in the fields and is abandoning their traditions. Young people look for jobs in the Indian administration or try to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet and social networks – telling them about the mysterious Nagaland. In its dirty streets full of thieves and drug addicts, foreigners are increasingly found listening to the tales of the local guides. The guides tell such fascinating stories that it’s impossible not to buy a necklace or cognac machete (of course, you will be told that this is the same blade, which used to cut off the heads of cognacs) from artisans who happened to be near the tour route.
Young Cognacs no longer tattoo their faces or cut off their heads, though many are still on the trail of the sluggish war for independence from India that began many decades ago.
“My generation has different ambitions than our parents,” says Khompa, a student leader. – For this reason, many of us go to other parts of India to study and to have opportunities to make a life that neither our parents nor their parents ever dreamed of. My hope is that Nagaland’s war and self-isolation will end and that through tourism and economic openness, my generation will be able to build a future for the Cognac people.”
Elder Chen-o Huzutruapa, who was born half a century before Hompa, shares his wish. “The violence, the beheadings and the war tattoos that tell of our battles will not return,” he says. – It’s time to look into a future that offers much more than what my generation had to live with.”
The most powerful Indian tribe in history
There is a legend about the Comanche tribe. In 1836, members of this tribe were kidnapped and taken to North Texas by Cynthia Ann Parker. At that time the Comanches were the most powerful tribe among North American Indians. Parker became an assistant to the chief and an equal member. Some time later she became the wife of the chief of that tribe. Three children were born to this marriage. One of them, Kuana, would become the greatest and last chief of the Comanche tribe.
The rise and fall of the Comanche tribe
S. C. Gwynn wrote about their lives in his book. In Empire of the Summer Moon, readers can trace the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe as they fought for control of the American Midwest. This book tells how they stopped the Spanish advance further into North America. Gwynn also writes why the French stopped visiting western Louisiana. The Comanches were a tremendous force-a force of nature that existed on the North American continent. The Comanches were feared by all. During their raids on other Indian tribes, they fought to the last man. When the Comanches were defeated, they killed all the men of the tribe, including teenagers, young children, and male infants.
Sometimes a few people were taken captive. The women of the defeated tribe were abused or killed as well. They did the same with the white colonists. All the settlers of those years were terrified of Comanche raids. They knew the consequences of such raids. Therefore, historians have a moral question about the Comanches and all the Indian tribes who lived on the plains of North America. American historians describe the horrific torture the Comanches inflicted on members of other tribes and white settlers. This tribe frightened white people to death.
Many historians only describe the atrocities the white settlers inflicted on the Native American people, but they forget to point out the militancy and brutality of the Comanches. This warlike tribe drove everyone, including other Indian tribes, off the southern prairies. They nearly wiped out the Apache Indians entirely. A historical parallel can be drawn between them and the Goths, Vikings, Mongols, and Celts. Europeans in earlier times did the same things.
The Comanches were like the inhabitants of ancient Sparta. They possessed great military prowess. These Indians were born equestrians. Sitting on a horse, the Comanche were one with him. They could handle horses like no one else in the Americas. This tribe was one military entity.
Their whole life was connected with war. The Comanches used to hunt only buffalo, but gradually this way of life was superseded by military activities. The Comanches wore almost no clothes. Handicrafts were not developed in this tribe either. They were not religious. Their culture was rather sparse. The only thing they taught boys was to sit on a horse from an early age and hunt buffalo. They were raised to be real warriors.
The mass slaughter of the buffalo
The death of the Comanche tribe was contributed to the mass slaughter of the buffalo. It occurred from 1868 to 1881. The settlers said: “If you kill a bison, you kill an Indian. This was the policy in nineteenth-century America. “If we kill all the buffalo, we kill all the Indians. No buffalo, no Comanche.” The cavalry of the white settlers rode across the prairie and slaughtered all the wild bulls. For 250 years the Indians’ struggle with white aliens lasted. It began with the landing of the first ship on the shores of Virginia. At first it was brief, hostile outbursts of revenge for the murders of J. Armstrong Custer and J. M. Chivington in 1864 – 1868.
At that time no attempt was made to exterminate all Native tribes. But then an order went out to the troops to exterminate all the Comanches. The cavalrymen expressed dissatisfaction with such an order. This regiment consisted mostly of veterans of the Civil War. They had never fought on the prairie or encountered such hostile local tribes. The American soldiers went to places of utter desolation, with no roads and a solid sea of grass.
They were lost, thirsty and dying. The Spaniards once tried to settle here until they realized that they themselves were prey to the warlike Comanches. One day they attacked a band of Comanches near a trading post. This small band of Indians destroyed three squads of Federal cavalry and infantry. President Grant’s “peace policy” could not really bring peace.
The commander of the Punisher was Ronald Slydell Mackenzie. He was a brigadier general, despite his young age. The Comanches called him Chief No Fingers or Bad Hand. He had a hand mangled in battle. He became the most implacable Indian fighter in American history. At the beginning of his campaigns against the Comanches he did not know how to fight them. Mackenzie had no idea of the area where they lived. He made many mistakes, but he learned from them. Mackenzie taught the Federal army how to fight the prairie Indians. He was an instrument of retaliation.
This brigadier general killed Comanches all over the Great Plains. After the Civil War this land was an open bleeding wound. There were ruins everywhere, mountains of corpses and charred chimneys of houses. There was no law in the area. The Comanches made their raids whenever they wanted. This was the first nonforeign rival. The Indians were gradually driven to reservations where they starved. All these adversaries were the peoples of the Great Plains: the Comanches, the Cayowa, the Arapaho, and others. But Mackenzie’s primary objective was the extermination of the Comanches. It was the most devastating war on the native American population.
Salt Creek Massacre.
The Comanches also stopped the spread of the Spanish Empire further north on the mainland. This tribe killed and conquered other Indian tribes in Mexico. They moved wherever they wanted. Entire areas were left empty after their invasion. It was this Comanche behavior that led General Sherman to make such a drastic decision. But Sherman’s proximity caused the Comanches to attack. This raid of theirs is known in history as the Salt Creek Massacre.
The victims were killed and stripped naked. Their bellies were ripped open and their scalps were removed. No Indian tribe had been able to resist the spread of European civilization and the nascent American civilization for so long. They fought with arrows and knives against arquebus and muskets and the neglect of their indigenous interests. Hundreds of Indian tribes died in this war. Their lands were expropriated.
There were several groups of Comanches in all. They, unlike other tribes, never signed any treaties with the settlers. The Quahadis were the most brutal and intransigent. They were feared even by the other Comanches. Mackenzie hunted the Quahadis. He sought out the village of Quahana, a half-breed chief. When his Indians were tracked down, the struggle was terrible. But eventually the Comanches, too, were forced to surrender. They, like other tribes, were settled on reservations.