Photos: Harvest rituals among Myanmar’s isolated Nagas

A haunting refrain pierces the night as the tribeswomen of the Gongwang Bonyo, among the most isolated people in Myanmar, dance around a campfire to bless the harvest ahead. The group are part of the Naga, a blanket term for dozens of tribes each with their own distinct dialect living near the Indian border, only accessible by nerve-shredding motorcycle journeys and on foot. Dressed in black and wearing orange bead necklaces and palm leaf headbands, they rotated around a fire, hands held tightly and braving the cold bare armed.

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST 10 Photos
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Naga tribeswomen around a fire during an overnight ceremony to bless the harvest in Satpalaw Shaung village, Lahe township in Myanmar's Sagaing region. A haunting refrain pierced the night as the tribeswomen of the Gongwang Bonyo, among the most isolated people in Myanmar, danced around a camp-fire to bless the harvest ahead. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

Naga tribeswomen around a fire during an overnight ceremony to bless the harvest in Satpalaw Shaung village, Lahe township in Myanmar's Sagaing region. A haunting refrain pierced the night as the tribeswomen of the Gongwang Bonyo, among the most isolated people in Myanmar, danced around a camp-fire to bless the harvest ahead. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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Women carry wood for a camp-fire for the upcoming overnight ceremony to bless the harvest. The group are part of the Naga, a blanket term for dozens of tribes each with their own distinct dialect living near the Indian border, only accessible by nerve-shredding motorcycle journeys and on foot. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

Women carry wood for a camp-fire for the upcoming overnight ceremony to bless the harvest. The group are part of the Naga, a blanket term for dozens of tribes each with their own distinct dialect living near the Indian border, only accessible by nerve-shredding motorcycle journeys and on foot. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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A man takes care of his child as his wife carries wood for the overnight ceremony. Like most Naga, the Gongwang Bonyo are mainly subsistence farmers who clear and burn the steep slopes around them to plant paddy, maize and vegetables. The next season they move on, leaving the soil to recover for up to 10 years. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

A man takes care of his child as his wife carries wood for the overnight ceremony. Like most Naga, the Gongwang Bonyo are mainly subsistence farmers who clear and burn the steep slopes around them to plant paddy, maize and vegetables. The next season they move on, leaving the soil to recover for up to 10 years. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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People gather by a camp-fire or warmth as Naga tribeswomen perform the overnight ceremony to bless the harvest. Dressed in black and wearing orange bead necklaces and palm leaf headbands, they rotated around a fire, hands held tightly and braving the cold bare armed. “This is the essence of our village and it brings us joy,” they chorused. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

People gather by a camp-fire or warmth as Naga tribeswomen perform the overnight ceremony to bless the harvest. Dressed in black and wearing orange bead necklaces and palm leaf headbands, they rotated around a fire, hands held tightly and braving the cold bare armed. “This is the essence of our village and it brings us joy,” they chorused. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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“The song is a prayer to bring success to the hill farms this coming year,” 32-year-old village head Maung Tar told AFP. “We dance in a circle to show we’re united and that nobody can divide us. We don’t let go, whatever happens.” (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

“The song is a prayer to bring success to the hill farms this coming year,” 32-year-old village head Maung Tar told AFP. “We dance in a circle to show we’re united and that nobody can divide us. We don’t let go, whatever happens.” (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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Naga tribeswomen during the ceremony. But the Naga are a people divided. Tracing a mountain ridge, the India-Myanmar frontier is a legacy of British rule, left behind by the retreating colonial power in the wake of World War II. It has left some 400,000 Naga in Myanmar estranged from three million others in India. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

Naga tribeswomen during the ceremony. But the Naga are a people divided. Tracing a mountain ridge, the India-Myanmar frontier is a legacy of British rule, left behind by the retreating colonial power in the wake of World War II. It has left some 400,000 Naga in Myanmar estranged from three million others in India. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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A Naga tribeswoman bites on a coconut leaf near the end of the overnight ceremony. A struggle for independence waged by armed factions on both sides has simmered for decades and yearning for a united Nagaland remains strong. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

A Naga tribeswoman bites on a coconut leaf near the end of the overnight ceremony. A struggle for independence waged by armed factions on both sides has simmered for decades and yearning for a united Nagaland remains strong. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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The tribeswomen hold rice in their palms as the overnight ceremony nears its end. The women continued their camp-fire ritual through dawn, temperatures plummeting in a test of physical endurance helped by an occasional draught of rice wine. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

The tribeswomen hold rice in their palms as the overnight ceremony nears its end. The women continued their camp-fire ritual through dawn, temperatures plummeting in a test of physical endurance helped by an occasional draught of rice wine. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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Villagers watch the end of the ceremony. It will be the men’s turn in a few weeks’ time, once the newly designated land is fully cleared and ready for planting. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

Villagers watch the end of the ceremony. It will be the men’s turn in a few weeks’ time, once the newly designated land is fully cleared and ready for planting. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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A man rings a gong as the day breaks after the ceremony. As the roosters crowed and the sun rose, youngsters were welcomed into the circle while the men prepared a freshly slain pig for the day’s feast. “We worry about losing our traditions. That’s why we teach them to our children,” said village head Maung Tar. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

A man rings a gong as the day breaks after the ceremony. As the roosters crowed and the sun rose, youngsters were welcomed into the circle while the men prepared a freshly slain pig for the day’s feast. “We worry about losing our traditions. That’s why we teach them to our children,” said village head Maung Tar. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2020 11:37 AM IST
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