Headhunters’ Portraits On Wood Slices | The Wancho Tribe


Documentary Photographer, Photojournalist and Conceptual Artist  Udit Kulshrestha is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this article.  From his project ‘Wancho Warriors Wood Slices‘.  To see Udit’s body of work click on any photograph.




Headhunting is the tribal tradition of collecting the heads of the dead enemies as a trophy, carried out for ceremonial-ritualistic purposes that the Wancho tribe practiced to help them gain prosperity.

The Wancho tribe has its origins in Mongolia and at present is settled in the Upper Hills of the Patkai Ranges that are on the Myanmar – Arunachal border of India.




Wancho’s are a ferocious headhunting warrior tribe that follow Animism and have been known to be followers of the Laws of the forefathers, which involved them in regular headhunting rituals for protecting the land of their forefathers or for acquiring new territories during land and territory disputes. The practice of headhunting was abolished in the 1960’s with the advent of civil society and Christianity in the geography.

In order to integrate the geography with the country, there has been massive deforestation under the guise of road access and development where the sacred forest-land – the land of the Wancho forefathers, is being destroyed over time.




The Wancho Warriors series is based in this sensitive ecological terrain where it looks at deforestation and sustainable development and looks at various perspectives of land-based conflicts, which has been the artists’ pursuit in the North East part of the Country. Using the medium of photography and historical photographic processes namely the Cyanotype, the project looks at making a statement on the history and the symbiotic lives of Wancho’s and its forestland.

Visually interpreting Hermann Hesse words, ‘When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured, ‘ the project engages with the identity and the lack of it through portraiture photographic techniques of these last surviving Wancho Headhunters who would not think twice before taking a head as a trophy. Their facial tattoo’s are tell tales of the heads they have taken and the hearts they have consumed in ritualistic practice for glory and prosperity.




Using the 175-year-old photographic technique of Cyanotype Prints, the Cyanotype mixture was mixed with mineral rich soil from the Wancho Land, which when exposed to the Wood from the region turned the Cyanotype black.

This was further coated with a gloss coating to protect the Print.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.


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By Udit Kulshrestha




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