ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

In Life and the Afterlife: The Relationship between Animals and Humans among the Sumi Tribe of Nagaland


Kiba Atokali - North-Eastern Hill University, History, Shillong, India


17 – More Than Human: Animal-Human Relations in Pre-Modern South Asia


 The Sumi Naga is one of the sixteen major tribes of Nagaland. In the pre-modern period (which consists of the 19th century, as the British formally made contact with the Sumi in 1883) the Sumi practiced shifting cultivation, raised live stocks and were  engaged in hunting. From the social activities mentioned, scholars and academicians have focused on the people and sidelined the significance of animals in the process. Animals played a crucial role in the journey of mankind- from the age of hunter-gatherers up to the present time. Likewise, in the Naga society, animals were not only perceived as a source of consumption but had a place in societal aspects as well. For instance, the possession of livestock depicted a status symbol while the distribution of meat strengthened social and marriage alliance. Animals were often sacrificed and offered to appease the gods. A major part of the discussion will focus on the role of dogs in the Sumi understanding of life and the afterlife during the pre-modern period. Therefore, the paper will throw light on the conceptual framework of the relationship between animals and humans, the role of animals in general and  the dog in particular. This paper will conclude by addressing the present-day opinions that revolve around the social significance of meat in the Sumi context and the overall controversial consumption of dog meat in the Naga society.