By Mark McConville
MEET the tribe who are rewarded for bringing back of the heads of their enemy from battle with a set of elaborate face and chest tattoos.
Incredible images show men of the Naga Headhunters proudly displaying their tattoos like badges of honour which recognise their prowess as a headhunter.
Other striking shots show a room full of skulls which are displayed like trophies and a house that was decorated with buffalo skulls to indicate wealth.
The stunning pictures were taken in Nagaland in India by British photographer Pete Oxford (58) from Torquay, who sat with the former headhunters while they smoked opium throughout the shoot.
“We were looking for bona fide headhunters,” he said.
“Warriors who had brought home one or more heads severed from enemy clans during battle. These warrior were not cannibals, however, the heads were ceremoniously carried home, in special baskets, where the skulls were then displayed as trophies.
“In recognition of his prowess as a headhunter the warrior was entitled to his badge of honour – a set of elaborate tattoos decorating his face and chest.”
Despite the fearsome reputation of the warriors, Mr Oxford was surprised at the tribe’s friendly, welcoming attitude to him, as an outsider.
“One of the Ang’s (Chief’s) houses that we visited, half the house was in Burma and the other in India. We were invited in and sat with the Ang and his two friends,” he said.
“All three men were heavily decorated with facial tattoos and I looked deeply at them for a hint of their murderous forays of days gone by.
“I could only find bright glimmers of mischievousness and playful childlike grins. My head grew heavy as I sucked in the dense smoke billowing from the brass crucible bubbling in the fire.
“Opium was being rendered down in readiness to top up the three men in their state of relative oblivion.
“We walked visa-less through the Burmese side of the village and found more men, proudly wearing their tattoos, all were friendly and not one of them was even slightly aggressive nor gave me the feeling that he might want to cut off my head.
“After all headhunting last happened somewhere back in the 1970’s – at least that is the official story.”
Despite ostensibly being part of India MR Oxford noted how the Naga tribes were still very traditional in their ways and ignored the Indian festival of Diwali.
“Still very Asian in appearance, the Nagas were different from the Assamese, told by their dress and their knives,” he added.
“Traditional shawls were decorated with tigers and knives were carried on the back in open bamboo sheaths. Buffalo were used to haul logs from the forest and hot water was boiled for tea in green bamboo stood next to an open fire.
“It was Diwali, one of ‘mainland’ Indias’s largest festivals, but it passed unnoticed here in Nagaland.
“People were very friendly and welcoming and the older women would even let me get in close to their legs with my camera to document their fading leg tattoos.
“A young man approached us and asked if we would like him to put on his traditional dress for a photo. He did so, for no money, and no other apparent reason than to help us get the most out of our visit.