Nagas - Settlements



Naga villages are autonomous units situated on hilltops. The average elevation of the villages is between 900 and 1,200 meters. Because of the mountainous terrain and the threat of invasion by neighboring tribes, these small villages were originally intended to be self-sufficient and secure. Consequently early explorers reported that Naga villages were heavily fortified. However, with the cessation of both intertribal conflict and outside interference (chiefly from British and Indian forces), the need for security and the degree of village fortification has lessened considerably. Norms for construction varied somewhat within the constituent Naga tribes, yet a few general observations may be made. Villages have one or more entrances that were once guarded heavily and, at times, booby-trapped. Village fortifications included large wooden doors (latched from the inside of the village and hewn from a single piece of wood), pitfalls, and ditches filled with panjis (sharply pointed bamboo stakes of varying lengths and widths). Stone walls (whose thickness may reach some 3 meters) surround Angami villages. Ao villages are surrounded by fences composed of wooden stakes and reinforced with panjis. Villages are approached by narrow paths overhung with thorny growth and are constructed so that they must be traversed by walking single file. During time of war, roads leading to Angami villages would be studded with pegs (driven into the ground) to prevent attack. Paths leading to Ao villages were often paved with rough stones near the village gate. There are also roads leading from the village to the terraced fields and jhum land that the Naga use as farmland. Jhum is land cultivated by the clearing and burning of an area of Jungle, which is then farmed for two years and subsequently allowed to return to jungle. An individual living in the village maintains a close attachment to the land of the village and to the family, clan, or village quarter (the khel ). The khel (an Assamese word for an exogamous group that corresponds most closely to the Angami word thino and the Ao word muphy ) is responsible for land cultivation, and each village is divided into several khels. The division of a village into khels is based largely on geography, but speakers of the same Language, members of the same clan, or groups of immigrants (whose migration to the village may have taken place after the village's establishment) might occupy the same khel. Materials used in house construction vary somewhat among the Naga tribes. Angami practices contain many of the norms found in other Naga tribes and serve as an appropriate Control group. A typical Angami house is a one-story structure with leveled earth used as flooring. It is from 10 to 20 meters in length and from 6 to 12 meters in width. Material used in home roofing is determined by individual status in the village, and there are four such degrees. A first-degree house may be roofed with thatching grass, a second-degree house with bargeboards, a third-degree house with bargeboards and kika (house horns), and a fourth-degree house with wooden shingles and kika (which differ at times in shape and placement on the house). The interior of each house contains three compartments. The front room ( kiloh ) is half the length of the house. Paddy is stored here in baskets along one or both walls and the room is furnished with a bench ( pikeh ) for rice pounding. The second compartment ( mipu-bu ) is separated by a plank partition containing a doorway. It is here that the hearth is located (consisting of three stones embedded in the ground to form a stand for cooking containers). This room also serves as sleeping quarters, and beds (raised ½ or 1 meter from the ground) are found here. The third compartment, 1 meter or so in depth and extending the entire width of the house, is the kinutse, where the liquor vat is located. This room also contains the rear entrance to the house. The house is usually home to no more than five persons. Houses are irregularly arranged in an Angami village, though there is a supposition that the Angami house should face east. Each house has an open space in front of it and houses are connected by irregular paths. Small gardens are frequently made near houses and may contain maize or mustard. Nearly every Angami village has an open space that serves as a meeting place and ceremonial locus for all of the village inhabitants. This area may also contain plinths for sitting made of stone masonry or wood. These stations (which often surmounted village walls or other high points in the village and could rise as high as 9 meters) may have originally been used as posts for watchers whose purpose was to warn of impending enemy attack. The morung (dormitory, which serves as guardhouse and clubhouse for single men) is an important part of most Naga villages. However, it does not assume a place of prominence in Angami villages, some of which have no morung in the traditional sense; the house so designated is occupied by a family while simultaneously being recognized as the village morung. Villages are given names based on peculiar features of the village site, the memory of an ancient settlement that once stood where the village now stands (and which its Current occupants wish to commemorate), particular events in the history of the village, or the whim of those living there.


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