Friday, December 7, 2007

Andaman and Nicobar islands - III

A Tropical Paradise

This part contains some rare photographs of the Jarawas.

I have devoted this part to the different tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Group of Islands because this is the only place in the world where the world’s only surviving Paleolithic age people still survive.
You can also see some of the world’s oldest existing primitive tribes.

There are five primitive tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
They are:

· Great Andamanese of Strait Island
· Onges of Little Andaman
· Jarawas of South and Middle Andaman
· Sentinelese of Sentinel Islands, and
· Shompens of Great Nicobar

Of these, the first four live in the Andaman Islands.
Only the last live in the Nicobar Islands.

The tribals in the Andaman group of islands are Negroid in origin with the trypical black skin. The tribals in the Nicobar group of islands are Mongloid with a fair completion.

The 10 degree channel has effectively kept the two groups of islands separated from each other. This can be clearly seen in the different groups of tribals living there.
There has been no inter mixing.

The Great Andamanese

About two centuries ago, of the five tribes inhabiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Great Andamanese were the largest in population.
In 1789, their population was about 10,000.
By 1901, the population had decreased to 625.And by 1969, the population had dropped to 19 only.
According to the Census of 1971, the population was 24.
By 1999, their number had increased to 41.
They are basically foragers.
Their traditional food is fish, dugong, turtle, turtle eggs, crabs, roots, tubers, pork, Andaman water monitor lizard, octopus, mollusks, crabs and fish.
They have learnt to cook food with spices, and eat cooked rice, dal, chapati and other Indian food items.
They have learnt to cultivate vegetables and have established poultry farms.
They are in great danger from modern communicable diseases.

These tribals have been rehabilitated in a small island named Strait Island.

The main aboriginal group in the Andaman Islands today are the Onges.
They are one of the most primitive tribes in India.
They live in reserved pockets on Dugong Creek and South Bay of Little Andaman Island.
They are semi nomadic food gatherers and foragers.
They hunt fish and collect honey.
They can make canoes.
The Government has provided them huts, food, clothes, medicines, etc.and established a primary school in the Dugong Creek settlement.

Of the 5 tribes, they are the only one who freely mix with the outside world.
But their rate of reproduction is very low and they are diminishing in number.

For a long time, the Jarawas avoided any contact with the outside world.
Either they would recede into the forests or attack visitors.
1974 was a land mark in the history of Jarawas.
For the first time in history, in February and March 1974, local officers could meet them - but only from a distance.
The local officers also dropped gifts.
The Jarawas continued to remain hostile till the beginning of 1998.
After that, they started coming out of the forests and meeting the local people.
They even started seeking medical assistance for their sick.

They do not make boats, but make rafts to cross the streams.
They are nomadic, subsisting on hunting, fishing and gathering from nature.
They eat wild boar, turtles and their eggs, crabs, mollusks, fish, wild pig, fruits and honey.

You can travel through Jarawa territory only after getting special permit and in convoys with police escort.
You are not supposed to get down from your vehicle.
If you meet them, they will happily accept gifts like bananas, coconuts, etc.
We had the rare experience of not only seeing the Jarawas, but also getting out from our car, shaking hands with them and photographing them in their own natural habitat.
It happened like this.
We obtained a permit to pass through their territory.
We were waiting for the customary police escort to escort us.
But that day, the police were occupied with too much work and could not arrange an escort party.
So reluctantly, they allowed us to go without any escort, at our own risk, of course.

We met three groups of Jarawas in different places.
There was no problem with two groups.
We gave them bananas, biscuits and puffed rice, shook hand with them, and took photographs.
The third group consisted of a few adult males.
They suddenly became a little hostile, turned violent, snatched the food stuff from our hands and started climbing all over the car.
Our driver panicked and simply ran like mad.
Jarawas are healthy - even healthier than the other modern population of the islands - with smooth skin, black curly hair, long and strong hands and legs and sturdy bones.
Unlike other tribes mention earlier, the Jarawas are not dependent on the Government.

The Sentinelese are probably the world’s only surviving Paleolithic age people.
They do not maintain any contact with any other group or community.
They live in North Sentinel Island in an area of about about 60 sq. kilometers.
They are considered as an off-shoot of the Onge and Jarawa tribes which have acquired a different identity due to their isolated habitation.

The Sentinelese are extremely hostile and never leave their Island.
Very little is known about the Sentinelese.

The Shompens are the only aboriginals in the Nicobars.
They are averse to any contact with the outside world.
The Shompens live on Great Nicobar - the largest of the Nicobar group of Islands.
Like the Nicobarese, they belong to the Mongoloid race.
The Shompens have two divisions.
The smaller division is known as Mawa Shompens.
They inhabit areas along the river valleys close to the coastal region.
They are very shy.
But they are quite intimate with the Nicobarese.
They suffer from various diseases and are physically very weak.
The major group of Shompens live in Alexendra and Galathia river areas and on the east coast of the area in the interior of the Island.
They are very hostile.
In the past, they used to attack the Mawa Shompens quite frequently.
But now the attacks have stopped probably because they have been largely reduced in number due to various diseases.

The Government has established a settlement at Campbell Bay in Great Nicobar.
The Shompens are visiting the settlers.

The Government is trying to protect and preserve all these tribes.
The Government is helping them live in their own environment with the least interference and disturbance from the outside world.

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