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Darlington, H.S. (1939). The Meaning of Head Hunting: An Analysis of a Savage Practice and its Relationship to Paranoia. Psychoanal. Rev., 26(1):55-68.

(1939). Psychoanalytic Review, 26(1):55-68

The Meaning of Head Hunting: An Analysis of a Savage Practice and its Relationship to Paranoia

H. S. Darlington

There are many tribes of men who make warfare ceremonially in order that they may capture heads or scalps. Ethnographic accounts vary from the mere mention of the practice to meticulous descriptions of methods, rituals, and superstitious beliefs connected in some way with the heads when covered with flesh, or when finally made over into bare skulls.

In northern Assam the British Government in recent decades has prohibited this type of warfare between the villages of the hills and jungle, for it was believed that villages might be decimated and field crops destroyed to the degree that starvation might ensue. As a matter of fact it appears that the birth rate is positively declining, and in addition, if we can believe the natives, the crops being produced in the fields are shrinking progressively, as the years go by. Rather commonly amongst the tribes living in this part of Assam it is held that head-taking is essential to produce a high birth-rate and abundant field crops.

If we look critically into this belief that head hunting is essential to prolificacy amongst the village women, we cannot escape the conclusion that this ceremonial type of warfare is actually, directly perhaps, or indirectly related symbolically to sexual intercourse and the resulting pregnancy of the women. So, too, this practice of head capture serves to fertilize the fields just as if every garden were analogous to a woman's belly.

Seemingly there are instances where a girl refuses to marry a youth nowadays until he has captured a head, for she doubtless fears she will be a barren wife, and will then be divorced after some years. Although the Government prohibits head-taking, a Lhota Naga girl at Phiro village recently declined the attentions of a certain youth until he had taken a head from some girl in Rengma village.

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