Naga Cultural Milieu: An Adaptation to Mountain Ecosystem
Reviewed By: Editorial Board
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“Naga Cultural Milieu: An Adaptation to Mountain Ecosystem” by V. Nienu is a non-fiction book about a group of ethnically related tribes, collectively known as “Nagas”, who have successfully developed adaptive mechanisms living in the steep mountainous terrains spread from the northeast of India to the northwest of Burma and southwest of China. It offers a comprehensive history of the Nagas peoples, from their origins to pre-British colonization, along with some commentary on their present and future.

Author V. Nienu offers a unique perspective on the Nagas and sociocultural evolution, given that he grew up as a member of the Chokri clan, one of the Nagas tribes in Northeast India. He draws from personal knowledge as well as from colonial officers’ and missionaries’ journals and notes in addition to scholarly documents on the topic. His book notes that the Nagas have been successfully living in steep, mountainous terrains for several millennia—with no other cultures to be found. Through the development and use of innovative and effective social, cultural, hunting, and lifestyle strategies, combined with sophisticated worldviews and cosmological perspectives, the Naga tribes flourished while other highlanders scarcely survived. In this book, Nienu effectively addresses key issues about Nagas and their culture, with much of the focus on the amazing adaptations the Nagas have made in response to the extreme conditions inherent to the land on which they live. To note:

“[…] the Nagas’ adaptation strategies go far beyond mere survival, for everything a Naga does or possesses signifies his true identity—all are characteristics of his adaptive strategies. For a Naga, adaptation involves much more than simply satisfying his gastronomies or reproductive obligations. The most important unit of adaptation among the Nagas relates to the overall well-being of its members without relying on others. In other words, it is the units of functional interdependency within their communities that are of critical importance.”

The author also provides vivid descriptive details about the daily life of the Nagas peoples and about Nagaland itself. He tells of the Nagas’ expertise with headhunting, noting the significant role that it played in the tribes’ survival rates and the place it fulfilled within their complex and sophisticated worldviews and spiritual belief systems:

“Naga headhunting is based on a belief in a soul matter asserting that the vital essence of supernatural power resides in the human head. By sacrificing human heads, therefore, it was believed that vital and creative energy was added to the village, a source of human and animal fertility.”

The culture of the Nagas tribes has remained relatively untouched for a very long time, as a result of access barriers due to the tribes’ remote locations. However, the tribes have been significantly impacted by colonization, political instabilities, and assimilation and acculturation. In “Naga Cultural Milieu: An Adaptation to Mountain Ecosystem”, Nienu provides an engaging and informative view into the Nagas world and beautifully detailed and vivid descriptions about the land to which they have so effectively adapted. A greatly satisfying read for anyone interested in learning about unique and fascinating cultures and their authentic, innovative adaptations to living in challenging natural environments. Not to be missed!