Sahnai Wangsa

Sahnai Wangsa - Wancho Headhunter Facial Tattoo

Getting to Sahnai Wangsa was somewhat of an ordeal. We had all the relevant permissions and had been signed into the area by both the military and the government. Every single stop along the way, however, required yet another Xerox copy of every piece of permission and another interview about why we were here. Something was happening, but nobody would let us know what.

Eventually, we made our way out to Konsa, a village on the Myanmar border. Being so close to an international boarder and so high up, the local paramilitary, the Assam Rifles, had a base right next to the village. We stopped in for formalities and a courtesy call. Things were taking a little longer than usual and we were all starting to worry that perhaps our 4 hour drive would be for naught as we would be turned around and sent home.

After about 20 minutes, we found out the real reason for the delay. The head of the base wanted to have lunch with us and was letting his squadron know they should cook a little more. We took a moment to meet him and let him know that we’d certainly come back for a meal with him once our work in the village was complete. He was intrigued by the project and let us know that if we were lucky, we might meet the oldest man in the village and hear his story.

After spending a couple of hours in the village talking with various men and having tea with the village chief, we finally came across the man we knew to be who the captain had told us about. Sahnai Wangsa was sitting around his fire enjoying his opium pipe when we arrived. He agreed to talk with us and came to sit outside. By his best guess, he would be 102 years old. So, we thanked him for joining us in the sun.

A Wancho headhunter sits with his basket

He was straightforward and to the point with his answers and our interview was quite short as he wanted to be back by the fire with his pipe. He said that he’d taken three heads and that was the reason for his three tattoos. He also told us that he’d mounted three monkey skulls on his hunting basket to symbolise that.

It wasn’t until we started to wrap up that he felt compelled to tell his full story. A neighbouring village just over the border of what has now become Myanmar had raided his village. One of the raiders had taken his father’s head. He wouldn’t let that stand and so went to their village for revenge. Even after taking a head, he didn’t feel satisfied. So, he got a raiding party together and launched a full-scale attack on the village. By the end of it all, he’d taken three heads and was tattooed as such. This satiated his appetite for revenge and he was done.

Hear this story in his own words below.

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