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Ayinde
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« on: January 04, 2005, 12:20:50 PM »

By GARY LEUPP

I'd been wondering about the Andamans and Nicobars. These are hundreds of small islands that rise out of the Andaman Basin northwest of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. They stretch out five hundred miles towards the Bay of Bengal, and constitute a Union Territory of India with their capital at Port Blair. Most of the islands are uninhabited, the whole archipelago's population only some 350,000. The people are mostly from the Indian mainland, but there are also "tribals" of what the New Delhi calls "Mongoloid" and "Negrito" stocks.

Negritos, dark-skinned, peppercorn-haired people of short stature, extend from the Andamans to the Malay Peninsula to the Philippines and even Taiwan. Their ancestors may well have been the earliest human inhabitants of Southeast Asia, and may have been isolated from the rest of humanity for as much as 60,000 years. Western accounts from the second century (Ptolemy) to the thirteenth (Marco Polo) describe those in the Andamans as cannibals. My first encounter with the Andamans was in Marco Polo's book (Book III, Chapter XIII), which I read as a boy:

"The people are without a king and are Idolaters, and no better than wild beasts. And I assure you that all the men of this Island of Angamanaian [Andaman] have heads like dogs, and teeth and eyes likewise; in fact, in the face they are all just like big mastiff dogs! They have a quantity of spices; but they are of a most cruel generation, and eat everybody that they can catch, if not of their own race."

There seems to be no modern confirmation for these details. But they captured the European imagination, and dog-headed beings from the archipelago decorate early-modern maps. I remember the dog-faced men from the illustrations in the Yule-Cordier edition of the Travels of Marco Polo.

Coming under Indian rule in the seventeenth century, the islands fell under the administration of the English East India Company in the eighteenth, passing ultimately into the hands of the modern Indian state. But the indigenous peoples have largely resisted assimilation while their numbers have declined. The Negritos in the Andamans include the Sentinelese, hunter-gatherers who, if they use fire at all, have only come to do so recently. Only about 200 remain, on the island of North Sentinel, protected by the Indian government which usually forbids even anthropologists from disturbing them. They are described by Indian authorities as "Paleolithic" and "hostile." According to Adam Goodheart, "no none knows what language the tribesmen speak, what god they worship, or how their society is governed."

The Andamans and Nicobars lay only a few hundred miles from the epicenter of the September 26 earthquake, much nearer than Sri Lanka, southeast India, or the Maldives. So watching for a week news coverage from those devastated regions, I waited with interest for some mention of the islands. I learned little but that radio contact with Grand Nicobar had been lost. But then the Boston Globe had a long article on the islands by Goodheart on Jan. 2, and I have found reports published since then. The picture they give is grim. 812 bodies had been buried or cremated in the islands as of Jan. 1, but on Car Nicobar, apparently the worst hit island, over 1,000 corpses lay scattered (Reuters, Jan. 3). "Twelve of 15 villages have been washed away," an Indian general told Reuters. "Villages are ghost villages." As of Jan. 1, according to the Indian government, of the 3,872 people still missing in India, 3,754 (98%) were from the islands (AP, Jan.1). Of the 1,500 on the island of Chowra, only 500 survive. No contact at all has been made with islands home to thousands more people. At least 16,000 homeless persons are now in camps.

Local people and international relief agencies have complained of bureaucratic delays in the delivery of aid. The Indian government has replied that its own efforts are of unprecedented scope, that foreign aid workers' very presence would divert resources better used by the government for the afflicted, and that some of the food and clothing offered victims may be culturally inappropriate (Washington Post, Jan. 3). Maybe the government is right.

I think of the words of the occasionally interesting Soviet-era poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko: "Not people die but worlds die in them." It is one thing to lose tens of thousands from cultures that will endure, another to lose an entire culture that has endured tens of thousands of years. Even if it is one whose speech, god and government are unknown to us. Indeed, should the waters kill a small isolated tribe, they kill a world, denying us forever knowledge of it. What greater tragedy can nature inflict? And should human neglect and incompetence contribute to the extinction, what greater outrage could we (or those who govern us) visit upon ourselves?

But the happy news, from Press Trust of India, is this. A team from the Anthropological Survey of India reports Jan. 3 that the "five aboriginal tribes inhabiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, our last missing link with early civilisation [sic], have emerged unscathed from the tsunamis because of their age old 'warning systems.'" ASI director V. R. Rao informs us that the "tribals get wind of impending danger from biological warning signals like the cry of birds and change in the behavioural patterns of marine animals. They must have run to the forests for safety. No casualties have been reported among these five tribes [Jarwas, Onges, Shompens, Sentinelese and Great Andamanese]." If this is true, as one hopes, it suggests that the diminishing number of humans enjoying what Marx called "primitive communism" require not officials, anthropologists, missionaries or alien humanitarians for their happiness or survival so much as the right to be left alone in their Stone Age classless societies.

"No better than wild beasts," wrote Marco Polo, reflecting his civilized and Christian biases. Perhaps that's not so much of an insult. Stone Age humans in touch with nature, able to read its signs in birds and fish, may have much to teach those of us out of touch, and to abet the preservation of the whole species. But how to acquire their wisdom, without deluging them under ours?


Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion.

http://www.rastafarispeaks.com/community/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=94
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Tracey
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« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2005, 06:25:49 PM »

Reading winds, waves may have saved ancient tribes on remote Indian islands.
- Neelesh Misra
  Canadian Press

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

PORT BLAIR, India (AP) - Two days after a tsunami thrashed the island where his ancestors have lived for tens of thousands of years, a lone tribesman stood naked on the beach and looked up at a hovering coast guard helicopter.

He then took out his bow and shot an arrow toward the rescue chopper.

It was a signal the Sentinelese have sent out to the world for millennia: They want to be left alone. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tribesmen needed to learn nature's sights, sounds and smells to survive.

Government officials and anthropologists believe that ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the five indigenous tribes on the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar islands from the tsunami that hit the Asian coastline Dec. 26.

"They can smell the wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars. They have a sixth sense which we don't possess," said Ashish Roy, a local environmentalist and lawyer who has called on the courts to protect the tribes by preventing their contact with the outside world.

The tribes live the most ancient, nomadic lifestyle known to man, frozen in their Paleolithic past. Many produce fire by rubbing stones, fish and hunt with bow and arrow and live in leaf and straw community huts. And they don't take kindly to intrusions.

Anil Thapliyal, a commander in the Indian coast guard, said he spotted the lone tribesman on the island of Sentinel, a 60-square-kilometre key, on Dec. 28.

"There was a naked Sentinelese man," Thapliyal told The Associated Press. "He came out and shot an arrow at the helicopter."

According to varying estimates, there are only about 400 to 1,000 members alive today from the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, Sentinelese and Shompens. Some anthropological DNA studies indicate the generations may have spanned back 70,000 years. They originated in Africa and migrated to India through Indonesia, anthropologists say.

It appears that many tribesman fled the shores well before the waves hit the coast, where they would typically be fishing at this time of year.

After the tsunami, local officials spotted 41 Great Andamanese, out of 43 in a 2001 Indian census, who had fled the submerged portion of their Strait Island. They also reported seeing 73 Onges, out of 98 in the census, who fled to highland forests in Dugong Creek on the Little Andaman island, or Hut Bay, a government anthropologist said.

However, the fate of the three other tribes won't be known until officials complete a survey of the remote islands this week, he said. The government reconnaissance mission will also assess how the ecosystem - most crucially, the water sources - has been damaged.

Taking surveys of these people is dangerous work.

The more than 500 islands across a 8,300-square-kilometre chain in the southern reaches of the Bay of Bengal appear at first glance to be a tropical paradise. But even one of the earliest visitors, Marco Polo, called the atols "the land of the head hunters." Roman geographer Claudius Ptolemaeus called the Andamans the "islands of the cannibals."

The Sentinelese are fiercely protective of their coral reef-ringed terrain. They used to shoot arrows at government officials when they came ashore and offered gifts of coconuts, fruit and machetes on the beach.

The Jarawas had armed clashes with authorities until the 1990s, killing several police officers.

Samir Acharya, head of the independent Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, said the Jarawas were peaceful until the British, and later the Indians, began encroaching on their territory. Thousands of bow-wielding Jarawas were killed by British bullets in 1859.

Over the past few years, however, relations have improved and some friendly contacts have been made. The government has banned interaction with the tribes, and even taking their pictures is an offence. Many tribe members have visited Port Blair, capital of the Indian-administered territory, and a few Great Andamanese and Onges work in government offices.

Outsiders are forbidden from interacting with the tribesmen because such contact has led in the past to alcoholism and disease among the islanders, and sexual abuse of local women.

"They have often been sexually exploited by influential people - they give the tribal women ... sugar, a gift wrapped in a coloured cloth that makes them happy, and that's it," said Roy.

One of the most celebrated stories of a tribal man straddling both worlds is that of En-Mai, a Jarawa teenager brought to Port Blair in 1996 after he broke his leg. Six months later, he looked like any urban kid, in a T-shirt, denim jeans and a reversed baseball cap. But he is back on his island now, having shunned Western ways.

"He took to the ways of the certain, out of a certain novelty," said Acharya. "It's like eating Chinese food on a weekend."

source: canada.com

© The Canadian Press 2005
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Ayinde
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2005, 07:55:28 AM »

250 members of ancient Jarawa tribe survive tsunami
January 6, 2005
Members of the ancient Jarawa tribe emerged from their forest habitat Thursday for the first time since the Dec. 26 tsunami and earthquakes that rocked the isolated Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and in a rare interaction with outsiders announced that all 250 of their fellow tribespeople had survived.
Full Article @ sfgate.com
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