Hill Women in the Time of Tribal Wars: A Reading of Folk Tales from Northeast India


  • Chaitali Gorai Tripura University, Tripura, India




Northeast India, strategies (for protection of women), tribe, war, women


What we know about women in traditional tribal societies in Northeast India is based on what oral traditions tell us about them. Although they were more resourceful and respected than the women of the plains societies, their disadvantages in a world teeming with tribal feuds were considerable. Ruthless enemies destroyed villages and killed everyone, but sometimes they spared the lives of women. When two hostile villages agreed to a truce, the women enjoyed freedom of movement, but only within the village. Kidnappings were frequent, and it was unsafe for women to leave the village unaccompanied by men. Their vulnerability prompted tribes to adopt measures such as face tattooing and the practice of tribe or village endogamy. Based on the evidence in oral traditions, mostly folk tales, this paper reconstructs the position of women in the tribal societies of Northeast India during the period of inter-tribal wars.


Download data is not yet available.


Ao, Temsula. The Ao-Naga Oral Tradition. Heritage Publishing House, 2019.

Barkataki, S. N. Tribal Folk-Tales of Assam (Hills). Publication Board, 1965.

Barma, Ashok, translated. Dimasa Lokokathā. Natun Diganta Prakashani, 2015.

Brara, Vijaylakshmi. “Culture and Indigeneity: Women in Northeast India.” Explorations, ISS e-journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2017, pp. 72–90.

Bongcher, Kamal, compiled and edited. Echoes from Lunglengtang: Bongcher Literature of Oral Tradition, translation editor Saroj Chaudhuri. Sahitya Akademi, 2011.

Chaudhury, Krairi Mog, compiled and edited. Mraima Folk Tales and Folklores, translation editor Saroj Chaudhuri. Sahitya Akademi, 2012.

Chodongse, Tsalongse and Kedutso Kapfo. Sangtam Folktales. Central Institute of Indian Languages, 2009.

Dalton, E. T. “The Nagas of Upper Assam.” The Nagas in the Nineteenth Century. Ed. Verrier Elwin. Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 400-04.

Debbarma, Bisnukumar. Personal Interview. By “author”. 04 Oct. 2018.

Debnath, Rupak. Exploring Highlanders of Tripura and Chittagong Hill Tracts. Akansha Publishing House, 2010.

Debnath, Rupak. “Women in Folktales: Introspection into Mizo, Rabha and Chakma Oral Literature.” Variegated Narratives in Indian English Fiction. Ed. G. A. Ghanashyam and Prasanta Chakraborty, Aadi Publications, 2014, pp. 114-28.

Dena, Lal. Hmar Folktales Retold. Jain Book Shop Publication, 2018.

Elwin, Verrier. Myths of the North-East Frontier. North-East Frontier Agency, 1958.

Elwin, Verrier. The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin: An Autobiography. Oxford University Press, 1964.

Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph von. The Apa Tanis and their Neighbours: A Primitive Civilization of the Eastern Himalayas. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962.

Gorai, Chaitali. Rabha Folk Tales. Akansha Publishing House, 2014.

Harvey, Godfrey Eric. History of Burma. Longmans, Green and Co, 1925.

Konyak, E. Echu. Folktales of the Konyak Nagas. Heritage Publishing House, 2022.

Kotturan, George. Folk Tales of Sikkim. Sterling Publishers, 1976.

Lalthangliana, B. Culture and Folklore of Mizoram. Publications Division, 2005.

Lewin, Thomas Herbert. Progressive Colloquial Exercises in the Lushai Dialect of the ‘Dzo’ or Kuki Language. Calcutta Central Press Company, 1874.

Lewin, Thomas Herbert. The Hill Tracts of Chittagong and the Dwellers therein. Bengal Printing Company, Limited, 1869.

Malay, Kathleen. “The Women who Used Tattos to Save themselves from Sexual Slavery”. YouTube, uploaded by VICE Asia,31 December 2018, https://youtu.be/mghKOEx1_Hs

Marak, Caroline R. Garo: A Bird’s-Eye View. Sahitya Akademi, 2021.

Mills, James Philip. Report on the Khasi and the Jaintia Hills, 1853. North-Eastern Hill University Publications, 1985.

Mills, James Philip. The Ao Nagas. Macmillan and Co Ltd, 1926.

Mills, James Philip. The Lhota Nagas. Macmillan and Co Ltd, 1922.

Mills, James Philip. The Rengma Nagas. Macmillan and Co Ltd, 1937.

Miri, Sujata. Stories and Legends of the Liangami Nagas. National Book Trust, 2014.

Parry, Nevill Edward. The Lakhers. Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1932.

Playfair, Allan. The Garos. David Nutt,1909.

Poitras, Genell Y, adapted. The Woodcutter and the Fairy. Si-sa-yong-o-sa, 1985.

Punü, Paul. Poumai Naga Folktales. North Eastern Social Research Center, 2017.

Rawlins, John. “Manners Religion and Laws of Cucis or Mountaineers of Tipra from Asiatic Researches or Transactions of the Society, Instituted in Bengal.” Asiatic Researches, or, Transactions of the Society instituted in Bengal for Inquiring into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences and Literature of Asia, vol. 2, 1790, pp. 187–193.

Shakespear, John. The Lushei Kuki Clans. Macmillan and Co. Limited, 1912.

Singh, Huirem Bihari. Diss. “A Study of Manipuri Meitei Folklore”. Department of Folklore, Gauhati University, 1985.

Taid, Tabu Ram. Mising Folk Tales. Sahitya Akademi, 2013.

Tamsang, Lyansong. Lepcha Folklore and Folk Songs. Sahitya Akademi, 2014.

Thanmawia, R. L. and Rualzakhumi Ralte, compilers and editors. Reprnt. Mizo Folktales. Sahitya Akademi, 2018.

Thou, Kangzangding, translator. Roots: A Collection of Zeliang Folktales. Heritage Publishing House, 2019.

Vetch. “A Soldier Observes.” The Nagas in the Nineteenth Century. Ed. Verrier Elwin. Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 92-96.

Vumson. Zo History. Self-published, n.d.

Woodthorpe, R. G. “Notes on the Wild Tribes Inhabiting the So-called Naga Hills, on our North-East Frontier of India.” The Nagas in the Nineteenth Century. Ed. Verrier Elwin. Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 46-83.



How to Cite

Gorai, C. (2023). Hill Women in the Time of Tribal Wars: A Reading of Folk Tales from Northeast India. The Grove - Working Papers on English Studies, 30, 37–52. https://doi.org/10.17561/grove.v30.8023