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The Headhunters of the Konyak Tribe

By Patrick Chew

 
 

 

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The Konyak tribe's practice, up till the 1940s, was the act of headhunting in a bid to acquire land and power. These headhunters adorned black facial tattoos as a mark of a warrior, and necklaces with tiger's teeth — each tooth representing a head that they had taken. 

This practice, however, has long been abolished after British missionaries brought Christianity to the region. Today, the walls on which tribesmen used to hang human skulls are lined with the bones of animals such as boars and deer. 

This was the scene that greeted Singaporean photgrapher Justin Ong when he arrived in Nagaland — where the Konyak tribe resides — after five gruelling days of travel and navigation. 

To him, being up close and personal with the Konyak headhunters was worth the journey. "This is one of the last few tribes to have their traditions and way of life intact," he says. "Even though some practices such as beheading people have obviously died out, they remain with the tribe members in an intagible, almost spiritual way. Being in a room with someone who I know has beheaded others intimidating, crazy scary yet exciting at the same time."

Justin Ong's series on the Konyak Tribe was part of ION Art's Celebration of Photography exhibition in partnership with Leica Galerie Singapore that featured eight collections of work by eight illustrious Singapore-based photographers. ION Art is set to host art exhibitions organised by Very Special Arts Singapore from 20 to 26 October, and a solo exhibition by local artist Ler Hock Chuan from 28 October to 5 November.