Positioned in the northernmost section of Nagaland, Mon is the district capital for the Konyak tribal people. Due to the 6PM Indian army imposed curfew, when dusk falls, the small town is quickly deserted. The curfew has been in place since the ceasefire between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and India broke down in February 2015.Postscript: Following a ceasefire agreement between the Indian government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN IM), the curfew has been lifted since late August.
Around 35Km east of Mon is the village of Longwa. In Longwa, opium addiction is widespread, with around 30% of the villagers addicted to the drug. Opium was introduced to the community by British colonialists. The British used the drug as a way to establish relationships with and also to pacify the violent Konyak tribesmen.
Headhunting was practiced in Longwa up until the late 1960's. Pictured: A skull belonging to a headhunter's victim is on display. The victim was shot execution style.
The Chief of Longwa, Tonyei Phawang, flanked by his caretakers. In a bygone era these men would have presented a foreboding sight. Today, they smoke opium habitually and lead a sedentary existence.
Longwa village (pop. 4000) straddles the India-Myanmar border. Longwa’s immediate proximity to Myanmar, the world’s second largest producer of opium, results in the drug flowing freely through the porous border.
When Christian missionaries proselytized the Naga tribespeople, headhunting became taboo. Despite ceasing in the late 1960's, evidence of past headhunting missions still remains. Headhunting missions would be waged on neighbouring villages. Warriors would remove the heads of their slaughtered victims and present them to the chief of the village. According to the Naga’s animist beliefs, human skulls possessed a life force that could ensure the prosperity of crops, animals and tribal clans.
Dopah (age around 80) is the Chief of Kaan Moi, a neighbouring village of Longwa. Dopah carried out three headhunting missions and killed three persons from the villages of Lamchung, Gonya and Langkho. Following his first successful headhunting mission, the chieftan’s wife tattooed a dark, mask like pattern on his face and chest. Dopah is one of the last surviving Naga headhunters. I asked him a few questions.Q:What do you miss from the time before the missionaries came?A:"I miss the hunting and dancing. Nowadays, everyone is modernised. In the past we used to drink lots of rice wine and have lots of ceremonies. Now, the younger generation are like slaves working in the city. There has been lots of change in the last 60 years. I still have not been in a car, but these days I see lots of younger people travelling by car.Q: Is there anything you regret?A: "Opium usage has made this generation very lazy and disinterested. Around 1940, the British introduced opium to the area. Opium has b
In order to smoke, users must first extract the opium from the impregnated cotton sheets and then boil away the excess water. The sticky opium residue is then mixed with finely chopped dried leaf (pictured bottom left), packed into a pipe and smoked.
Chief Phawang (left) and his caretakers smoke opium around the fire from morning until late. According to Phawang, "smoking opium is a good way to kill time." Chief Phawang controls 41 villages in the region, his other tasks include directing cultivation and resolving disputes.
In Longwa, a hit of opium costs $2. Given Longwa's immediate proximity to Myanmar, opium dealers from Myanmar frequently make the trek out. Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of opium. The widespread availability and usage of the drug in Longwa is causing significant health, social and economic problems for present and future generations.
Takching, a resident of Longwa, has been smoking opium for the last 30 years. Opium costs him between $10 - $20 a day. In order to support his habbit, he has sold all of his possessions.
Wantin has worked as Longwa's pastor for the past 22 years. Although the rate of opium addiction has fallen from 90% to about 30%, he believes that opium addiction cannot be eradicated in Longwa:"The Burmese people sell opium to Longwa villagers. In Burma people have no money and the townships have experienced little development, selling opium is their only method of cash generation." Exsasperated, he explains that if the sitaution is to change in Longwa the villagers must understand that "change does not come from above, the elders, the people in the village need to make the changes." Pastor Wantin is leaving Longwa in February 2016 to serve in another village
Longwa women return from the rice and vegetable fields. Their bamboo baskets are filled with firewood so that they can prepare dinner for their family. The wives and daughters of Longwa do not smoke opium, instead they are charged with the duty of waking up at first light to tend fields of rice and vegetables. They will stay there until dusk, then, they will return home, make a fire, cook, clean and sleep.
Addiction and work means that kids spend most of the day seperated from their parents
With little prospect of work and a village gripped by an opium pandemic, youths often leave Longwa to find work in the city.