Fading Tattoos

A living heritage passing away

The Konyak tribe, once notorious for their headhunting and famous for their facial tattoos, live in the remote North East India and the northwestern tip of Myanmar. The prominent and iconic “specs” facial tattoo of the Konyak men is a depiction of this unique cultural practice that distinguish the Konyaks to the rest of the world. Various other tattoo design patterns on the bodies of both men and women are a direct visual representation of this unique traditional practice. Unfortunately, the living proof today, of this once thriving and unique tattooing culture, is fading by the year.


The book "The Last of the Tattooed Headhunters; The Konyaks”... 

...is documenting this unique tattooing culture in depth. The fundaments of the Konyak culture and the tattoos on face and body form an union, they are inseparable. The aim is to keep this culture alive for all, international and locally, by making three books: for the world, the local community and their children. Stories, photos, songs and illustrations will capture this beautiful and unique culture in different ways.


This book is unique...

...because it will reflect and document the tribe from within. Phejin Konyak is retracing the steps of her famous great grandfather and Konyak warrior Ahon and documented her own unique culture. It describes the culture in depth but is also a personal story full of melancholic emotions and ambiguous feelings as well.

The Konyaks

The Tattoo Culture

For centuries these lands were isolated because of fearsome headhunting practices. The tattooing art of the body is fundamentally nested in the Konyak culture and strongly related with headhunting. The greatest honour was to become a warrior and get the facial tattoo for which bringing back a decapitated head was required. But the tattooing culture went much further then that alone. For the men, tattooing was a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood to becoming a warrior, going to war was a part of growing up. For the women, tattooing reflects the cycle of life where crucial life events were reflected by tattoos on the body.

Subexposure 2016 Peter Bos-47 copy Subexposure 2016 Peter Bos-198 Subexposure 2016 Peter Bos-171

The tradition of tattooing define the Konyak people and their culture

The Konyak tribe is known as the “face – tattoo tribe” to the outside world. Tattooing started as a form of adornment to beautify and ornament the body. Tattoos for the Konyak people was like wearing a uniform with distinguished designs that distinguished between members of a particular group, village, clan or individual as a means of identification. It displayed the distinction between a warrior and a common man, a person of aristocratic clan from other clans, an unmarried girl from a woman who is betrothed, etc. It was an event to celebrate the cycle of life of the coming of age or the transition from childhood to pubescence and adulthood, accompanied by rituals and ceremonies. Tattoos are a mark of valour and triumph in accomplishments in the warfare. During the heydays of tattooing practice, the tribespeople went about bare and did not cover themselves which made the tattoo marks prominently visible. This exhibit showed the distinction and meanings of the tattoos. Therefore, there was no Konyak person who was seen or went about without the permanent indelible patterns imprinted on their bodies.


Konyak warrior, headhunter, Nagaland Konyak warrior, headhunter, Nagaland Konyak warrior, headhunter, Nagaland

For men and women

For men tattoos and head-hunting were inseparable, to take on the enemy and bring back the head was the highest achievement for the Konyaks. In this way the warriors deserve a facial tattoo which symbolises courage and strength. The number of collected heads will be reflected in the diverse decorative tattoo patterns. These were worn like a medals of honour, as an identity and status.



Tattoos for the Konyak females mark their physical journeys. Tattooing was confirmation of the coming of age of transition from one stage of life to the other that announce their place in the society of sexual maturity, marriageability and marital status (toitaipu). However, certain tattoos were placed as an honour of paying homage for the achievements of the father, brothers or male relatives in a headhunting raid. Just as her mother, older sisters and aunts before her it was mandatory for a Konyak girl to get the indelible stain on her body.



The Books

The sole purpose of documenting the Konyak tattooing culture is to make it accessible to all.
To do this three different paper version of books will be produced.


Premium coffee table book, rich with photos, illustrations, stories and songs, English language. Publisher: Roli Books | Lustre Press, release November 2017.

Update: Premium coffee table book has been published!! 


Take a look inside 

The Children's illustration book (Currently working on this)

The Konyaks have never known a written language, the only way of passing on their culture was by singing of songs, reciting poems and folktales told by the elderly to the younglings. The oral tradition was the only way to pass on all the knowledge within families and within the community to the next generation Konyaks.
Sudden modernisation has a very strong impact on the old oral tradition. Children learn to understand the bible, learn western fairytales, sing hallelujah and modern pop songs. The modern form of education feeds young minds to only focus ahead. The past and with that, the very roots of the culture tend to be forgotten.
The Konyak Children's illustrated book is going to reach out to the (future) younglings of the Konyak community. By making an illustrated book the old stories, myths, poems and songs, the oral tradition will be presented to the new generation Konyak. In this way they can stay in touch with their ancestral past and with their roots. One's identity is defined by it’s roots and we must not forget.

(Language: Konyak/English)

A local version for a local price

The other version will be lesser in production quality but very affordable for a local price and in Konyak Language. This way the community will be included in sharing the knowledge of their ancestors and often fathers and grandfathers.

(Language: Konyak)


Phejin Konyak, granddaughter of tattooed headhunter and warrior Ahon Konyak, is retracing her grandfathers and great-grandfathers footsteps by documenting the tattooing culture of her own tribe. Ahon was a respected warrior throughout the tribe and he had a wish for more peaceful times. This made him agree to act as the first interpreter and went on many expeditions with the Britishers. Phejin’s curiosity and appreciation of her great grandfather's story gives her the drive to document her culture and travel to the villages and step on those hills and valleys where he had been nearly a hundred years ago. 

 Phejin Konyak

"I've always wanted to do something for my tribe, my great-grandfather is a famous family member, and I honour him in my heart. He travelled between these remote tribes to help abolish the headhunting culture, to bring peace to them. It is actually quite ironic, my great-grandfather was helping to put an end to their own culture and now i’m am walking the same path to document all that’s left of the old culture today and save it for the Konyak people before it vanishes in silence.”

Peter Bos 

...is a professional portrait photographer from Eindhoven, The Netherlands. He travels to remote corners of the world with the main focus of capturing the essence of unique cultures, through strong and touching portraits. Peter’s has a personal work method, he submerges into local societies and tries to establish good relationships and gaining trust. Trust is for him the key ingredient for a good portrait. Peter and Phejin met in Mon district Nagaland and it didn’t take long for them to decide to work together on this beautiful project.

Walking the paths

Phejin and Peter worked closely together for nearly 4 years, travelling to numerous villages and hunting down all the tattooed people of the tribe. Hearing their stories, recording their songs and poems and made stunning portraits of the remaining tattooed headhunters and their wives. The konyaks have an oral tradition, knowledge was passed on in the form of songs, poems and music from generation to generation. To really do justice to this traditions they have recorded songs and poems and included them into the documentation.

Support us

We need your support

With passion and love we have put an enormous amount of energy and our own funds into it. The coffee table book is finished!! All the stories have been heard and documented, video’s and photos are taken. With your support we can make these books a succes and make the Konyak culture accessible to you, the Konyaks and their children. 

You can support us in different ways:

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On this page the latest news will be published; photos, videos about the traditional art of tattooing!

Support the Children’s book

Support the Children’s book

The illustrated book for the Konyak children is a way of keeping the oral tradition alive. The stories will be illustrated in Konyak language and English. This is a non-profit project and we need your help. Soon there will be a crowdfund campaign. Contact us for more details.

Buy the book

Buy the book

The book has been released on the first of December 2017.The book is already available online and in bookstores in India and jan/feb internationally. All the profits goes into the publishing costs of the local Konyak book and the illustrated children’s book.
Buy the book on amazon.


Questions, inquiries, suggestions, comments or else....Feel free to contact us!

Mon District, Nagaland, India
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