Fascinating photographs reveal the last of a once fearsome headhunting tribe who enjoyed a murderous heyday where severing the head of an enemy warrior was not just accepted, but treated as a rite of passage.
Now, as the last remaining members of the Konyak tribe approach old age, their unique culture has been captured in a series of stunning images.
The journey is uniquely told through the lens of a Konyak woman – the great-granddaughter of the prominent tattooed headhunter Ahon – who takes the viewer deep into the heart of Nagaland, a mountainous region in northeast India.
The photos vividly capture the tribe’s body beautification process – a vanishing practice where tribe members adorn their bodies with distinctive facial and body tattoos.
In Nagaland, the body is treated as a canvas, with inscriptions marked on the skin to represent rites of passage or, for some, to mark every kill they made.
Disappearing: A man from the Konyak tribe, which can be found in north eastern India, sports imposing facial and body tattoos which are awarded during significant rites of passage and were traditionally awarded when the head of an enemy warrior was severed
Imposing: This man, now in his 70s, carries a spear once used by tribe members to hunt enemy warriors, where their heads were decapitated and brought back to the tribe. This was a practice that was not just accepted, but treated as a rite of passage
Approaching old age: As most the last remaining members of the Konyak tribe are aged in their 70s, their unique culture is quickly vanishing. These men stand and proudly display their inked bodies like badges of honour
This Konyak tribeswoman poses in front of a wall adorned with buffalo skulls. She is decorated with strings of traditional necklaces. Despite their fierce reputation and intimidating appearances, the last generation of Konyaks are now over the age of 70 and are warm and welcoming to visitors
This Konyak man’s unique headdress and arm jewelry has been made from the bones and horns of animals he slaughtered. The practice of wearing the bones or skulls from a successful hunt is said to capture the slain’s spirit and represent the captor’s courage and bravery
Warrior pose: A man stands with weapons once used for chopping off enemy tribe’s heads with what appears to be the rings of buffalo horns woven to his head. In the tribe’s murderous heyday, each village had a skull house and every man in the village was expected to contribute to it with the heads of their opposing tribes
Through the generations: An elderly warrior stands outside the doorway of a traditional living hut, holding the hand of his grandson. He wears a traditional necklace and holds a spear while his grandson is dressed in modern, manufactured clothing
Two Konyak women pose inside their homes where hunting tools can be seen hanging on the wall (left). The tribeswomen are still very traditional in their ways, using buffalo to haul logs from the forest and boiling hot water for tea in green bamboo by open fires. These women have only a few fading arm and shoulder tattoos
These women proudly hold two sharp three-pronged spears used by their tribe members to hunt and kill prey. They are beautifully decorated with layers of beaded necklaces and colourful shawls
Covered in horns: One of the headhunters poses with massive horns draped around his dody and pierced through his earlobes. His inked patterns on his back indicate his brutal past where each kill was rewarded with a fresh bit of ink
These men show off their stunning headdresses which were once decorated with the decapitated heads of enemy villagers. The Konyak were infamous for marauding the villages of other tribes, collecting heads, feet, and hands as trophies and hanging them on the biggest tree in their village
Wood carvings of native animals such as crocodile, lions and buffalo are engraved into a wall where large brass and copper cymbals hang on the walls of this man’s house. He wears a thick fur coat to keep warm during the harsher colder months
Two heavily-tattooed men stand in the doorway of a traditional living hut, holding wooden walking frames to steady themselves. Their tattoos are part of an intricate body beautiful process in which the body is understood as a canvas for art, with inscriptions marked on the skin as a form of rite of passage and cycle of life
This tribeswoman continues to honour the unique but vanishing practice of body tattooing and piercing. The gaping holes in her earlobes indicate many years of wearing heavy jewelry
Deep in concentration: A tribeswoman holds a sharp needle to mark ink into into the skin. The different tattoo patterns represent different meanings and traditions, and can reflect folktales, songs, poems and sayings
Thick with ink: This man’s face is almost entirely black with ink. It is a indication that this man is a prominent member f the tribe and has made many kills. Each set of tattoos recognises a warrior’s prowess as a headhunter
Close up: These men show off their heavily faded tattoos which is an essential and celebrated part of the Konyak culture. Despite dramatic changes in modern living, elderly tribes people continue to show immense pride in their culture