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In the year 2011, we set out on a mission to document the dying tradition of tattoo making among the several Naga tribes, who practiced the art in the past before the advent of Christianity. We travelled across the 11 districts of Nagaland to nine different communities – Ao, Chang, Khiamnuingan, Konyak, Phom, Pochury, Sangtam, Yimchungru and Tikhir.

"Our documenting efforts concentrated on capturing the remnants of the fading ink. We tried to educate ourselves by meeting headhunters, ex-animists and women who still sported the souvenir from the past and labored to remember a time before Christianity."

Within The Confines Of A Frame

Within the confines of a frame
Marked on the canvas of souls
The system of the savage
The blood of the ages
Wounds of ancient wars
Now mingled
With the blood of Christ
Spilt blood and severed heads
Offered to absentee gods
In hope of fertility
In hope of deliverance

Within the confines of a frame
Marked on the canvas of souls
A rite of passage through a hurricane
Grit your teeth
For beyond the pain child
Beyond the battle of your will
Rested your right to be a man
Within the confines of a frame
Marked on the canvas of souls
The stamp of beauty
You were a woman
In a man’s world
A world that masticates and ingests
Time and change

Within the confines of a frame
Marked on the canvas of souls
The ways of an archaic culture
Now displaced by compassion
A compassionate Ethnocide
A sleight of hand
Heavens promised and heavens lost
The path you chose
Lead you away from your ancestors
Lead you towards salvation
A bleeding ignorance surrendered to a blind faith

" In Lungwa Village, we met a headhunter inebriated by opium. We photographed his thousand yard stare and struggled to extract information from his clouded mind."

The Mystery of a Vacant Gaze: A Space Cadet in Lungwa

Your mind as clear as the dust drowned landscape
We left behind in the wake of our meanderings

A vacant gaze looking inward
With straining eyes of retrospect
To recall the simplicity of an immobile past
Touching stones polished by rain
Listening to the winds tell them of the past
The merciless gods and the homage paid
The toil on the sterile hills
The blood soaked soil that bred sustenance
The blood caked machetes

Projections of a crumbling memory
Some of them traded for a more agreeable existence
The smoke around the fire
The log burns the fleet of time
The miniature hell that burns in your pipe
Oh! Inhabitant of indifferent paradise
What have you forgotten?
What does the opiate haze render dark

Once fierce and feared
Your bravado now rendered obsolete
By the love of Christ
Your spears and machetes hang on to the walls
Neighbored by skulls that they earned
Pride and abandonment merge

The horror and the honor of battles past
Now rehabilitated by vacant gaze
Resting on the stillness of time

"As we conducted our interviews and took photographic evidence of the fading ink; the old, who suffered from a crisis in memory, stood on their quivering and withering feet. It was evident by now that the practice of tattoo making was indeed dying."


The belly of the mountain
Shrouded in gritty fog
Lacerated by the need to commute
By the urgency of our inquisitions
Validated by the onset of their blindness
Of their eyes
Of their mind

Cataract eyes and cataract memories
The remnants of the past
Those who have not forgotten the old ways
Now contemporary peripherals
Reduced to the margins of the real world
The unstoppable force of evolution
The metamorphosis of your ethno sphere
Fading Ink Diaries is a four-part series - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 4.
"Fading Ink - The Dying Art of Traditional Naga Tattoos" was a documentary produced by Design Stash team in 2011.

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