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A Jarawa woman and boy by the side of the Andamans Trunk Road
The ancestors of the Jarawa and the other tribes of the Andaman Islands are thought to have been part of the first successful human migrations out of Africa. Several hundred thousand Indian settlers now live on the islands, vastly outnumbering the tribes.
How do they live?
The Jarawa hunt pig and monitor lizard, fish with bows and arrows, and gather seeds, berries and honey. They are nomadic, living in bands of 40-50 people. In 1998, some Jarawa started coming out of their forest to visit nearby towns and settlements for the first time.
What problems do they face?
The principal threat to the Jarawa’s existence comes from encroachment onto their land, which was sparked by the building of a highway through their forest in the 1970s. The road brings settlers, poachers and loggers into the heart of their land.
This encroachment risks exposing the Jarawa to diseases to which they have no immunity, and creating a dependency on outsiders. Poachers steal the game the Jarawa rely on, and there are reports of sexual exploitation of Jarawa women.
Tourism is also a threat to the Jarawa, with tour operators driving tourists along the road through the reserve every day in the hope of ‘spotting’ members of the tribe. Despite prohibitions, tourists often stop to make contact with the Jarawa.
How does Survival help?
Since 1993 Survival has been urging the Indian government to close the road, protect the Jarawa’s land, and allow them to make their own decisions about their future.
In 1990 the local authorities announced that they intended to forcibly settle the Jarawa. Forced settlement was fatal for other tribes in the Andaman Islands, and has always been so for newly contacted tribal peoples worldwide. Following a vigorous campaign by Survival and local organisations, this plan was eventually abandoned.
In 2004 the authorities announced a radical new policy, stating that the Jarawa would be allowed to choose their own future, and that outside intervention in their lives would be kept to a minimum.
The Indian Supreme Court ordered the closure of the road through the Jarawa’s land in 2002 – yet it remains open, and poaching and exploitation are posing increasingly serious dangers.
Survival is campaigning to ensure that the road is closed and the policy of minimum intervention adhered to.
In the wake of the 2004 tsunami this member of the Sentinelese tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter.
© Indian Coastguard/Survival
The Sentinelese live on their own small island, North Sentinel, and continue to resist all contact with outsiders, attacking anyone who comes near. They hit the headlines in the wake of the 2004 tsunami when a member of the tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter.
Who are they?
Like the Jarawa, the Sentinelese hunt and gather in the forest, and fish in the coastal waters. They live in long communal huts with several hearths, and use outrigger canoes to travel the seas around their island.
What problems do they face?
The Indian government has made several unsuccessful attempts to establish ‘friendly’ contact with the Sentinelese. Contacting the tribe would almost certainly have tragic consequences, as their isolation makes them very vulnerable to diseases to which they have no immunity. The government now says it will make no further attempt to contact them.
The people of North Sentinel Island know only too well what dangers outsiders can bring.
© Christian Caron – Creative Commons A-NC-SA
Since the coastal waters around the Jarawa reserve have been so heavily used by poachers, these illegal fishermen are now turning their attention to the waters surrounding North Sentinel. In 2006 members of the Sentinelese tribe killed two fishermen who had illegally approached their island.
How does Survival help?
Survival is urging the administration of the Andaman Islands to adhere strictly to its policy of no further contact with the Sentinelese, and to put a stop to the poaching around their island.
The Onge of little Andaman Island call themselves ‘En-iregale’, meaning ‘perfect person’. They were decimated following contact with the British and the Indians, their population falling from 670 people in 1900 to around 100 today.
The Onge live on a reserve less than a third of the size of their original territory. Little Andaman is now also home to Indian settlers, and much of the island has been deforested.
The Indian government tried to force the Onge to work on a plantation in return for food and housing, in a form of bonded labour, but this was unsuccessful. Today the Onge are largely dependent on government rations.
Being able to hunt wild pigs is essential to the Onge, as according to their customs men cannot marry until they have killed a wild boar. Now, however, the Onge complain that outsiders are hunting all their pigs; this is contributing to an already low birth rate among the Onge. Survival is campaigning for their land to be protected from outsiders.
The Great Andamanese
Of the four tribes of the Andaman Islands, colonization proved most disastrous for the Great Andamanese. When the British arrived there were more than 5,000; today, only 56 survive.
The Great Andamanese were originally ten distinct tribes, including the Jeru, Bea, Bo, Khora and Pucikwar. Each had its own distinct language, and numbered between about 200 and 700 people. They are now collectively known as the Great Andamanese.
The Bo were the last of the ten tribes to come into contact with the British, just before the 1901 census. Disease, brought by the colonizers and passed on via the other Great Andamanese tribes, had already decimated the Bo, and they numbered only 48 at the time of contact.
Hundreds of Great Andamanese were killed in conflicts with British settlers, as the tribes defended their territories from invasion. The British then changed their tactics and set up an ‘Andaman Home’ where they kept captured Andamanese. Many more of the tribe died from disease and abuse in the home, and of 150 babies born there, none survived beyond the age of two.
In 1970, the remaining Great Andamanese were moved to the tiny Strait Island by the Indian authorities, where they are now largely dependent on the government for food, shelter and clothing. Abuse of alcohol is rife among the surviving Great Andamanese.