Although an official ceasefire was signed in 1997, the situation remains unresolved. During my two-month visit, Naga insurgents attacked an Indian Army post and tensions over peace talks had led to a heavy army presence throughout the state. Military convoys clogged many of the roads and soldiers patrolled on foot, rifles at the ready.
In the 1950s Langtoyimlok had been a Naga soldier himself. “That’s when I became Christian,” he tells me. “God spoke to me, saying he would save me from the bullets.”
Is life better now? “Yes – when we became Christians we began to love each other and we stopped headhunting,” he replies. “Life is easier now, we don’t have to guard the village and we live without fear.”
How life has changed here. When Langtoyimlok was born, Nagaland wasn’t even a state, just a wild, mountainous tract piercing the skies between the Brahmaputra and Chindwin rivers. Polygamy and headhunting lay at the heart of Naga society and they inhabited a complex pantheon of spirits. Langtoyimlok’s ancestors were all ala-menli, men and women said to be able to communicate with tigers. His father, Yanglak, was often seen talking to a tiger; when a hunter shot the animal, Yanglak died soon afterwards. Now there are no more ala-menli and men who once sang lusty war songs sing “Praise the Lord!” instead.
As we leave, I ask my young translator if he’s interested in these old stories. “We’re too busy with our studies to sit around and talk to the old people,” he shrugs. At this, I feel a pang of sadness, for soon these old headhunters will all be gone, and their stories and knowledge will be buried with them.