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Day 91: Longwa

Michael Palin - HimalayaDespite the grip of the Baptist church, the Konyak culture is still taught in schools and pre-Christian dances form the highlight of today's festival.

Women process down from the ridge, four abreast, holding hands and wearing coral bead necklaces, headdresses, blue or black tunics and skirts with striped hoops. They form wide circles and move round infinitely slowly, chanting almost sotto voce. The slow, dirge-like pace is dictated by purely practical considerations. The jewellery of each dancer weighs 10 to 25 lb (5 to 10 kilos) alone.

The men then perform a war dance, which recreates the story of a head-hunting party. They appear, ironically enough, from behind the Baptist church, armed with machetes in one hand and rifles or spears decorated with goats' fur in the other. On their heads are bear-skin caps and hornbill feathers, round their waists aprons and cane belts, squeezed tight to help puff out their chests, and on their feet incongruous black leather shoes of the sort you might wear to the office. On their backs are baskets in which to bring the heads home.

There follows a dramatic enactment of a raid on another village. Children cover their ears as the rifles are discharged, and the men end up with a celebratory python dance, in which their gyrations cause the sun to catch the glaze of their feathers and thus recreate the sinuous movement of the snake.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 91: Longwa
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Longwa
  • Book page no: 212

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