‘The news is yet to sink in’

Film on Konyak headhunters selected for Cannes film festival

The word has been going around the last couple of weeks about a short film from Nagaland, Last of the tattooed head hunters, has been selected for the prestigious Cannes festival. Since this is the first time that a film from the Northeast has being selected for the festival, Last of the tattooed head hunters has indeed created a landmark for the people of the Northeast, especially the State of Nagaland. The film was selected in the short film corner of the festival.

The film, which is based on the head hunting practice of the Konyak Nagas, has been directed by Vikeyena Zao under the banner of Hawksbill productions. I chanced to meet the young director at her Beltola residence yesterday and I was amazed to learn that the film also has an Assamese connection: the 15-minute long documentary has been produced by Indrajit Narayan Dev – Vikeyeno’s husband and a national-award winning short filmmaker-researcher himself. The script has been written by Air Cdr (Retd) DJ Sharma, an airforce veteran who is extremely well-versed in the region’s history and ethnography of the people.

Last of the tattooed head hunters is an attempt to capture the glorious head-hunting tradition of the Konyak Nagas. One of the fiercest among all the Naga tribes, the Konyak Nagas continued the practice till the end of the twentieth century. “The film is based on the ritualistic details connected with the head hunting tradition of the Konyaks, with attempts also being made to project their traditions and ancient customs. The principle reason for making this film is to tell the people about the tattooed head hunters before they are gone,” said Vikeyeno Zao.

Today, the Konyaks like most of the Naga tribes are Christians. With the advent of modernity into their lands the young generation have all but forgotten their past traditions and culture and are forward looking along with the rest of the world. However a dilemma faces these brave and hardy people today, and it is a political one. Vikeyeno explains, “In 1972, when the international border between India and Myanmar was demarcated, the border was drawn right through their villages, and even through their homes. No consideration was given to the rights of the Konyaks to live as one people in one country. Today their wish to live as a homogeneous tribe face an uncertain future. This documentary film aims to project the Konyaks in their homeland, their traditions and ancient customs and their plight today and a presentation to the world about these last tattooed Konyak Naga Tribes before they are gone forever.”

The scriptwriter Air Cdr (Retd) DJ Sharma further elaborates, “The aim is to highlight the Konyak Nagas and their practice. It is easy to label them as savages but we should try to examine the reasons for them following this practice. Headhunting is even prevalent in countries like America but over here it was more of an act of self-preservation. The Konyak villages, which now fall on the international border with Myanmar, were located in a hostile area and they were surrounded by hunters as fierce as them. It was an act of counter-defence for them. With the passage of time, the Konyak people have also moved on embracing new sources of livelihood like agricultural cultivation. An area that we have tried to examine is how they have survived this length of time and that too in an area lacking in resource, which is something we should all try and understand.”

A veteran soldier, Air Cdr (Retd) DJ Sharma is an alumni of the Airforce War College and is deeply interested in the battlefields of Northeast India. He has also fought in the 1971 war.

For Vikeyeno and her husband Indrajit Narayan Dev, who produced the film, the selection of the film in the Cannes film festival is yet to sink in. As Vikeyeno says, “We are deeply honoured even though the news is yet to sink in. When we first heard the news, we thought someone was playing a prank on us. But we are glad that our hard work has paid off.” Her filmmaker husband Indrajit Narayan Dev, who has probably made the highest number of short films in the region, adds, “You don’t know what door will open for us now,” says Dev. Incidentally, Dev is also one of the descendents of the Chilarai clan of the Koch Royal family.


About Aiyushman Dutta

Who am I? Yet to find the answer. For the time being, u can call me a writer, maybe a journalist and a music entrepreneur or an errand boy! Whatever suits your fancy!

Posted on April 9, 2010, in Concerts/ Reviews, Day-to-Day and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great writeup. Thanks for sharing. Uploaded your link on the North-East India page on Facebook.

  2. Darned good news I say. A North-East film in Cannes!

  3. great news, have spent 3 years in nagaland, the pristine beauty and the wonderful people there always live in my memoirs. and is’nt it amazing that most of the country thinks they are away from the main stream, now they put us on the global map, it’s time when we all thought otherwise . . great going . . congratulations all and especially to Vikeyena Zao and his team ..

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