Naga Folkdance and its values: An Oral version

Naga folkdances popularly known as ‘Naga war dance’ by the people is immensely adorable, but is less meaningfully practice and its significance less known by any performers. Along the line of digital age many folkdance forms are being practiced in distorted form. Hardly handful or none distinguishes the original form of folkdance from fusion of hip-hop, break-dance, classical dances, and modern choreography etc. The values of folkdances are diminishing year after year, month after months.


Meaning of Aphilokuwo (folkdance)

The word aphilokuwo is interpreted as folkdance. It is the combination of two words aphi and kuwo . The word ‘aphi‘ comes from the root ‘aphi’ meaning body and Kuwo means dance. The dance is an excellent culmination of enormous vitality and virility. Thus, martial movements of Naga folkdance is also interpreted as war dance.  The duration of a Sümi Naga folkdance last for twenty to half an hour.


The Origin of Naga folkdance in oral traditional version

Though the exact origins of Naga folkdance is shrouded in mystery it is believed that once upon a time a poor boy went to the jungle for hunting. To his surprise sow two human like creature with long hair spread under net known as Kututarara dancing whole day on the top of a huge tree branches.  Impressed by the magnificent dances the poor boy made it a routine to go to jungle and regularly watched the scene.  Gradually, the boy became envious and on being tired of watching the dances regularly made up his mind to kill them.

In one fine day as planed he went to the site with his crossbow and killed one while they were cheerfully dancing.    The boy quickly rushed back to the village and informed the villagers of how he had killed kututarara. The villagers brought the mortal remains to burry in the village. They chopped the bamboo, split into two pieces to clip kututarara’s hair inside and buried them together.  After sometime later out of their curiosity the villagers dug out the grave and found out the mortal remain was perished but the hair remained still inside the bamboo. They then took the excavated hair and made asapuqu a dance costume and thereafter started wearing it in dance. Gradually people started imitating it and thus became a traditional costume.

Aphilakuwo is a lively form of folk dance that originates from purification rite. People traditionally performed Aphilakuwo during aphiküsa (purification ritual) while celebrating kichimi pulh(elders’ feast). During aphilokuwo people sing aghüle(war song).



indigenous fire ignition rituals
Indigenous fire ignition rituals


Steps of Naga folkdance      

Folkdance begins with prelude and way out step. The name of the Sümi Naga folkdance step in most cases is named after the introducer. All together there are more than thirty folkdance steps i.e. aghalache kighilhe, Kiyeyi pukhu kighilhe, Akhonhe küqhü kighilhe, aghau kighilhe, topu kighilhe,tusho kighilhe, Oe kighilhe, chita kighilhe, akughughu kighilhe, koküpha kighilhe,shothi kighilhe, hocheli kighilhe, khukishe kighilhe, and aphi kighilhe, Akhonhe kuqu, Angu kupusu, Ananu kughide and Agha lache. (attire twirling crow step)   etc.

Every Sümi folkdance is commenced with prelude and culminates with way out step as pre and post warm-up.

  1. The Sümi Naga folkdance step known as aghalakiche (crow step) is the imitation of kututurara’s dance step on the top of a tree branches. The step begins with twice hope followed by right and left turn to magnificently spread amülaküxa (male shoulder strip) then bend and stretch right leg twice and beat the ground by left leg to repeat the same process.
  2. Kiyeyi pukhu; stretch forth right leg twice, turn right and lift right leg backward twice.
  3. Akhonhe küqhü; beat the ground once by right leg and step forward twice.

Folk dance is full of vitality and strength, unlike most of the dance forms. The entire body and entire movement of the dancer are employed as a single unit. The uniformity of legs steps form an effective means of communicating the cultural expression and uniqueness of war techniques.  In recent times, aphilokuwo has become popular at regional, national and international platform.

Folkdance costume, its meaning and usage:

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  1. Avabo-hornbill feather (head gear)
  2. Akinisüpha(ear cotton)
  3. Akuwolochi/Achiku(neckles)
  4. Aminihu(boar task)
  5. Amülaküxa (chestline)
  6. Akiyesakhi kixi(loin)
  7. Akühaghi(elephant task)
  8. Awu sükha(wrist band)
  9. Amini küda(bead kilt)
  10. Asapuqu (mini waist basket)
  11. Apukhukükha(anklet)
  12. Ayiphu züta(fur handled dao)
  13. Angusakümghü(fur handled spear)
  14. Azuto (shield)



  1. Akütsükükha (head gear)
  2. Tsükole (earring)
  3. Achiku (neckles)
  4. Tamlachi (string neckles)
  5. Aküsa (arm band)
  6. Asapu(spiral bracelet)
  7. Tsüghümini(mekhela)
  8. Akichelochi(waistline)
  9. Ayiküsü(Iron/ walking stick)
  10. Axuthu (smoke pipe)
  11. Amuto (basket)


Art of folkdance                               

Folk dance is an expression of identity of both participant and the occasion. The form of a Naga folkdance is based on the martial arts tradition of headhunting. The costumes i.e. shield, spear and sword etc worn by the dancers illustrate mythological stories, oral history, folklore, war, romance, and nature correlation. Aggressive movements, strong rhythmic folk tune and beat are characteristic of folkdance. Both male and female folkdances alike are martial in character.   Traditionally Sümi Naga folkdance is performed only under the royal patronage. An influential man of status who had own trophy (enemies head), accomplished purification rite, and treated lavish feast to the community. In short a great warrior, religious, and wealthy man. He also is the head and guru of the village morung institution.


Mode of folkdance

Usually Sümi Naga folkdance has no fixed and strict figure and norms of artist number, age limit or co-participation barrier. However, best suggested number to performed standard folkdance ranges from twenty to hundred. Age barrier does not arise in Sümi Naga folkdance so long as one is competent in his

 /her skill. The folkdance team can be formed flexibly either in peer group or mixed which ever suits the members best. Naga folkdance is by nature comprises of a co-team inclusive of both man and woman and boys and girls alike.

Unlike many Naga tribes in the case of Sümi Naga there are separate folkdances for man and a woman. In the former folkdance two to four participants leave the circle to perform ‘aqhe’ and cheer the participants and two to four woman dressed in traditional attire accompanies. They move behind man folk as a cheerer and redresser. These women keep howling at the every interval time to cheer and support the guys and redress them in motion as man folks perform vigorously. While the rest remain in the group dance and sing simultaneously. However, the later folkdance is purely a woman folkdance thus no role of man is incorporated nor required in it. The dance performed by the women folk is called ‘totimi philokuwo'(women folkdance). It is a pleasant dance consisting of singing ‘aphilokuwole‘(folkdance song) and stepping in a circle.


Occasion of folk dance performance

Sümi Naga folkdance is a significant art created contextually to serve the purpose meaningfully. It has political, religious, cultural, and social implication. Thus, traditionally its performance is restricted only to victory celebration and merrymaking. It is performed during kichimipulhu after the completion of aphiküsa a purification rite ranging from a stretch of week to forty days long. Usually the host after completion of purification rite invites the folk dancer to commemorate his religious valedictory rites celebration.  The dancer encircles the house of the host and cheers him in dancing and singing for almost a day and concludes with shichu shisho lavish feast and brewed rice beer.

On other occasions folkdance is performed as an act of victory. When the village won the war or succeeds in hunting folkdance is performed to mark achievement.  The team rotates the village with acquired object i.e. head hunted or any other object as a symbols in joy and celebration. In other instance folkdance accompanies festivals and is also performed during festivals to raise fund for the next year’s festival to be celebrated. Any contributions either cash or kinds donated by the well wishers are collected for the next celebration.

In Sümi Naga folkdance it is mandatory that two scout who leads and backs the troupe be a man of social status. They should have acquired enemies head, slaughtered wild animals, accomplished aphisa purification rite and kichimipulhu treated lavish feast. The greater and better social status one had gained provides better prospect to lead the team.

The second most important role in a Sümi Naga folkdance is aqhekishi a war skill demonstration. In short a forerunner of folkdance. This role is played mostly by a two professional warrior who had acquired maximum credit in their access.  These two warriors are detached from the actual circle of folk dancer and acts independently. They continuously demonstrate war skill back and front disclosing their identity saying, I am Mr.X and Y as the troupe dance rhythmically.

Spear kick practice for war dance skill (8ft)
Spear kick practice for war dance skill (8ft)

Synchronization of Folksong and folkdance

For any oral traditional community no folkdance is performed without folksong. Thus, Sümi Naga has special folksong for folkdance. Probable in line with the context of action as it is in the most cases of work folksong folkdance is made no difference. Traditionally usage of drum in Sümi Naga folkdance is unknown. But it is always synchronized with folksong. However, the folksong sung in folkdance is only a wordless sound alone, Ho…He….The group number in equal proportion with four parts each correspond the sound repeatedly. And as the dance progress rhythm of the song accelerates. Thus the same process continues till the folkdance culminates.


Fusion of Today’s folkdance

To congregate diverse types of Naga folkdances and other folkdances in general we have made an attempt to incorporate both the traditional and modern form of folkdance. To this instead of folksong a drum and modern music is used to accompany the dance.  Thus, folkdance steps and costume as traditional and drum and music as fusion.



Folk dance is full of vitality and strength, unlike most of the dance forms. The entire body and entire movement of the dancer are employed as a single unit. The uniformity of legs steps form an effective means of communicating the cultural expression and uniqueness of war techniques.  In recent times, aphilokuwo has become popular at regional, national and international platform.



Dr. Hesheto Y.Chishi

Folkdance Guru.

Director, Indigenous Cultural Society Nagaland.

Email : indigenouscc@yahoo.co.in


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