Economic Condition and Livelihood

Economic Life of the People

Traditionally, the Nagas are not tradesmen but they depend on the agricultural products, domestic products and animals, forestry products, hunting, etc. Their mode of business is also different from other civilizations. But there are many interesting things to know about the economic life the Nagas.  The Naga society is agricultural-based and all are bound up with the production of the basic food supply. The Nagas are agrarians mostly and their economic status is to be looked into from this perspective. Most of the Nagas do jhum (slash and burn) cultivation and some depend on terraced fields. They also depend on the forestry products and handicrafts. At present, the Nagas with some educated young generations arose to modern way of life and doing things. The society is now in the transition that needs a proper guide and direction. However, the economic situation of the Nagas will not see much improvement unless it gets into industrial and trade system of economics which is the way of the world now. Here, we would like to mention about some on which the Naga economy is built. 
 i.      Agriculture: Agriculture is the most important aspect of the economic life of the Nagas. Rice is the primary agricultural product for the Nagas. Rice is sown in both terrace and jhum cultivations. Terraced fields are mostly done by the Somra and the Makury Nagas which are found in Somra tract and along the banks of the Chindwin River, the Sati/Tizu/Nantaleik River and the Nawin River. At the northern most part of the Eastern Nagaland we can see terraced fields especially nearby and around the Naungyan Lake by the Tang Shang Nagas. Apart from rice there are also several crops and grains that the Nagas grow in their fields, to name a few: soya bean, potato, cabbage, sesame, millet, taro, yum, chili, tomato, squash, ginger, cotton, tobacco, pepper, maze, etc.[1] Though they are not well commercialized, they represent the economic status of the Nagas.


Terraced field


Jhum Cultivation of the Nagas


ii.      Domestic products and animals: Domestic products and animals are also a good source of income for the Nagas. Domestic products are mostly handloom items such as different types of shawl, shoulder bags, towels, handkerchiefs and clothes. There are also some other products such as black smith, stone cutting, wood carving, pottery, bamboo items, cane items and many other which are done mostly by men.[2] The Nagas are good at handicrafts and many other indoor activities for business. Mithun, buffalo, cow, dog, chicken and goat are the common domestic animals found among the Nagas. They are, in fact, very much useful in various ways such as during festivals, feasts, marriage programs and the business purposes as well.
iii.      Forestry products and hunting: It is obvious that the Nagas much depend on the forestry products. The wood and bamboo items, which they employ in making crafts, are taken from the forest only. Handcraft is a very important part of the Nagas for both income and prestige. Hunting also is another good source of income. The Nagas hunt various types of animals such as tiger, elephant, bear, wild boar, bison, snake, deer, etc. Elephant tusk, tiger and wild boar’s fangs are of great value and they are measured with a high price. Honeybee hunting and salt [3] making are also important income sources. Fishing [4] and laying snares for the birds are also interesting professions of the Nagas and they help the Nagas to maintain domestic need. It is also meant for business purpose.
iv.     Mode of business: Use of coin and note is an alien practice for the Nagas in the past. But later it was introduced to the Nagas by the outsiders and neighbors.[5] In the ancient times, barter system was the medium of business for the Nagas. The products they have are taken to the neighbors such as the Tamans, Shans, Kachins, Ahoms and Meiteis for exchange. Usually, iron broken pieces and copper items are highly valued as they are employed in making tools and weapons. However, in the later days the Nagas learned to use coin and note replacing the traditional barter system of business. Now the people are acquainted with modern lifestyle and influenced by the modern way of business that has changed the Naga society immensely.



[1] Brown, Burma, p. 27; Vidhyathi, Art and Culture, p. 83; See also Chellappa, “Tangkhul Tribals,” p. 308.
[2] “Nagaland;” As on 23/12/10; See also Vidhyathi, Art and Culture, pp. 89-93; See also Alemchiba, A Brief, p. 17.
[3] In the Naga Hills, there are natural salt streams from which the Nagas cook salt. It is considered very precious and costly. It is also used as medicine for the sick ones in the ancient times. In Eastern Nagaland, the most famous salt stream is found in Lakte village of Makury Nagas nearby Mt. Saramati. It can produce more than 80,000 kg per month which is enough salt for the people and villages in Layshi Township.
[4] For some tribes fishing is considered a job of the coward who cannot hunt in the deep forest. But for some it is usual. Fishing includes use of traditional poison which the Nagas put in the rivers to collect the fishes. But this traditional poison used for fish is not harmful to the people.
[5] We are not sure exactly who introduced use of coin. Most probably the Nagas could have learned from the Ahoms and Meiteis as they were closely related to the Nagas prior to the arrival of the British forces to the Naga Hills.