Rengma Naga

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Total population
61,000 (2001 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Northern Rengma and Southern Rengma
Christianity, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Other Naga tribes

Rengma is a Naga tribe found in Nagaland and Assam states of India. According to the 2001 census of India, the Rengma population in Nagaland was 51,000, i.e. 2.9% of the total Naga population.[2]


A Rengma Naga man, c. 1868

Like other Naga tribes, there are few written historical records of Rengmas.

According to the local traditions, the Rengmas and the Lothas (or Lhotas) were once part of a single tribe.[3] There are also oral records of a mighty struggle between the combined Rengma villages, and the Lotha village of Phiro.[4] There are records of the Rengmas' conflict with the Angami Nagas.[5]

Slavery used to be a practice among the Rengmas, and the slaves were known by the names menugetenyu and itsakesa. By the time the British arrived in the Naga region, the slavery was a declining practice, and no Rengma appears to have been a slave during this time.[6]

In Assam, the Rengma tribals are found in the "Rengma Hills" or Karbi-Anglong allegedly once part of the Naga Hills (then) in Assam but then transferred to Assam's non-Naga districts for "administrative convenience;" Rengmas claim that they are the native or aborigines of Karbi-Anglong, that the Karbi tribe immigrated from the Khasi Hills in the west, colonized the area to their detriment, and reduced them (the Rengmas) to a minority of the population. Karbi oral history claim that they immigrated from the Yunnan region of China in ancient times, settling in Western Assam, but were first displaced eastwards by the rise of the Dimasa Kingdom, then fled into the forests and mountains of Karbi-Anglong during the Burmese invasions and depredations. [7] The Rengmas have come under pressure from militant factions representing the majority Karbis to assimilate or emigrate, and have retaliated by forming their own counter-militancy groupings, leading to ethnic killings and polarization in Karbi-Anglong, and the flight of both Karbis and Rengmas to relief camps. Parallel to the Rengmas, the Kukis, who have an anti-Naga tendency in the last few decades, also have militant groups active in Karbi-Anglong resisting Karbi efforts at assimilation or expulsion of the Kukis there. [8]


The Rengma Nagas are divided into two groups: the Eastern Rengmas, and the Western Rengmas.[9]


The Rengmas are experts in terrace cultivation.[10]


Traditional clothing[edit]

Captain Butler and assembled Nagas; seated left to right: Lt. Ridgeway, Capt. Butler, Angami Naga interpreter Sezele of Chephama, Mikir coolie. Standing left to right: Angami Naga, Inspector of Police, Angami Naga Dotsole of Chedema, Angami Naga, Rengma Naga, Commander in Chief Manipur Army, (sacred tree with skulls), ?, 2 Rengma Nagas, Dr Brown - Political Agent, Manipur

The traditional Rengma clothing consists of various types of clothes, which are indicative of the status and position of the weavers. A man who has not been able to offer a great feast, or has never killed an enemy, may wear an ordinary type of cloth called rhikho. Rhikho is a white cloth with four narrow black bands. The number of black bands varies with the age of the wearer. Moyet tsu is another ordinary type of cloth, worn by the young men. It is a dark blue cloth with a very broad median band, and embroidered with a thin zigzag pattern in red at the edges. Alungtsu is a cloth for well-to-do men, who have not yet offered a great feast. Teri Phiketsu is a shawl, which requires the wearer to perform the head hunting ceremony.[11]

Rengmas make yellow dye from the flowers of a tree, and also practise painting on clothes.

Ngada festival[edit]

The harvest festival of the Rengmas is called Ngada. It is an eight-day Ngada festival that marks the end of the agricultural season.[12] Ngadah is celebrated just after the harvest, towards the end of November. The village high priest (Phesengu) announces the date of commencement of the festival.

The schedule of the festival is as follows:

Day Event
1 Preparation of rice-beer
2 Collection of banana leaves from the forest.
3 Women visit the graves of their deceased relatives, and place rice-beer wrapped in banana leaves on the graves. The Nagas believe that the souls of the deceased visit their relatives during Ngadah, and rice beer is a symbolic offering to the souls. The rice-beer is then tasted by the eldest member of the household, followed by others.
4 Early in the morning, the male members gather at their respective morungs or dormitories (known as Rensi), early in the morning. They come with their own rice beer and meat, and a have a meal. The women do not take part in the morung feast. In the noon, all the male members go around the village with their ceremonial and warrior fineries. They are followed by women, who carry rice-beer in mugs and bitter gourd containers, to offer them drinks.
5 The male members visit all the houses in a procession, singing songs related to Ngadah. Each visited house offers something as a token of their appreciation.
6 People visit houses of other villagers, and eat and drink.
7 People collect firewood, banana leaves and vegetables for the feast, from the forest.
8 A grand feast is arranged, and whole village feasts on the collection from the fifth day. According to the traditional Rengma belief, the souls of those who died in the previous year leave the village after the grand feast, and go to the land of the dead. The end of the festival is marked with three rites: an agreement with the fire in order to avoid fire accidents, an agreement with rats to avoid destruction of crops or household goods, and a rite to expel the evil spirits.

During Ngadah, the Rengmas also perform a folk dance, with traditional warrior attire.[13]

Other tribal customs[edit]

The Rengma tribals bury their dead, and place the spear and the shield of the deceased in the grave.[14] The funeral ceremonies end with lamentations and feasting.[15]


  1. ^ Rengma Naga at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ 2001 Census of India
  3. ^ Journal of Anthropological Research. University of New Mexico. 1973. p. 168. OCLC 60616192. 
  4. ^ Hutton, J. H. (1921). The Angami Nagas with Some Notes on Neighbouring Tribes. London: Macmillan and co. p. 7. OCLC 44920051. 
  5. ^ Singh, Kumar Suresh (1982). Economies of the Tribes and Their Transformation. Concept. p. 55. OCLC 9592718. 
  6. ^ Raghavaiah, V. (1971). Tribal Revolts. Nellore: Andhra Rashtra Adimajati Sevak Sangh. p. 77. OCLC 588863. 
  7. ^ Bordoloi, B N (1972). District Handbook: United Mikir and North Cachar Hills. Shillong: Tribal Research Institute. pp. 19–20. OCLC 814921. 
  8. ^ Stack, Edward; Charles James Lyall (1908). The Mikirs: From the Papers of the Late Edward Stack. London: D. Nutt. p. 3. OCLC 4124475. 
  9. ^ Subba, Tanka Bahadur; G C Ghosh (2003). The Anthropology of North-East India: A Textbook. New Delhi: Orient Longman. p. 237. ISBN 978-81-250-2335-7. OCLC 76822515. 
  10. ^ Mohammad Abbas, Khan. Social Change in 21st Century. Anmol Publications. p. 7. ISBN 81-261-2103-3. 
  11. ^ "Textiles of Nagaland". Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  12. ^ ""Ngadah" (The Festival of Rengma Tribe)". Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, Nagaland State Centre. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  13. ^ "Republic Day Folk Dance Festival – 2004". N E Newsletter Vol. 6 No. 2. Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, Nagaland State Centre. February 2004. Archived from the original on December 5, 2004. Retrieved 2007-10-25. 
  14. ^ Edward Balfour, ed. (1873). Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia. Madras: Scottish and Adelphi Pr. OCLC 162602290. 
  15. ^ Mills, A. J. Moffatt (1980) [1854]. Report on Assam. Gian Publications. pp. cxxix. OCLC 8346539. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mills, James Philip (1980) [1937]. The Rengma Nagas. Macmillan and Co./United Publishers. OCLC 826343. 
  • Kath, Kenilo (2005). Traditional religious systems of the Rengma Nagas. Delhi: Anshah Publishing House. ISBN 978-81-8364-003-9. OCLC 62534151. 
  • Stirn, Aglaja & Peter van Ham. The Hidden world of the Naga: Living Traditions in Northeast India. London: Prestel.
  • Oppitz, Michael, Thomas Kaiser, Alban von Stockhausen & Marion Wettstein. 2008. Naga Identities: Changing Local Cultures in the Northeast of India. Gent: Snoeck Publishers.
  • Kunz, Richard & Vibha Joshi. 2008. Naga – A Forgotten Mountain Region Rediscovered. Basel: Merian.