Friday, August 8, 2008

THE AO NAGAS AND THEIR WARRIOR SHAWLS


Ao Nagas are one of the primitive tribes of Nagaland, whose settlements are spread across the Mokokchung district in northeast Nagaland bordering Assam. Tradition says that the Aos sprung up from Langtrok, which means six stones. They then founded the Chungliyimiti village where they settled and stayed for a considerable period of time. In course of time, they crossed the Dikhu River by a cane bridge leaving other people behind. These people (the Aos) who went ahead leaving others behind came to be known as ‘Aor’ or ‘Ao’, which means ‘going’ or ‘gone’.

The Ao Nagas have a rich tradition of clothing, which besides fulfilling the decorative needs of the people, also, serves visually to distinguish the warriors and commoner class. The Ao Naga warrior shawl is called Mangkotepsu. This is exclusively worn by the men folk. In the past a man had earn the right to wear this shawl by taking human heads in warfare, through acts of bravery and by offering by feasts of merit as proof of his wealth. Anyone wearing without the credentials was taken to task by the village council and had to pay heavy penalties for violating the code.

Women of Chungliyimiti say that in the past the women of the village designed this shawl as a token to encourage their men to ward off repeated attack by neighbouring tribes.

The white strip in the middle carries the symbols of bravery and courage and the sun, moon and stars signify the resulting fame of such warriors. The animals depicted in the strip resemble the physical power and the valour of men. The hornbill is a revered bird whose feathers are used for decorative purpose in ceremonial costumes. The mithun (buffalo like creatures) indicates the wealth of the wearer because only the rich people could rear these animals. Other symbols are depiction of weapons and shields used by Ao men during warfare.