The Lost Aboriginal Tribe of Andaman Islands �¢ï¿½ï¿½The Jarawas

The Jarawas are an aboriginal tribe whose lineage is traced to the tribes of Africa.

The Andaman Islands is a group of islands in the Bay of Bengal. These islands form an archipelago. Most of the Islands are part of India except for some northern islands which are part of Burma. The earliest reference to these islands is by Arab geographer Soleyman who in the ninth century produced a map with the name Andaman.   With the advent of the British the Islands became crown property.  In 1789 the East India Company government in Bengal established a naval base and a penal colony in the Great Andaman Island. This colony was founded by Lieutenant Archibald Blair of Bombay and is named after him as Port Blair.

The British did not interfere with the aboriginal tribes who reside in great Andaman. Called the Jarawas these tribes continued living in seclusion till late into the 20th century. After the departure of the British in 1947 the Indian government enacted the Aboriginal Tribes regulation act, 1956 and earmarked reserved areas for them

 The Jarawas are an aboriginal tribe with distinct Negroid features. Researchers after DNA tests have concluded that these tribes migrated from Africa about 65000-75000 year ago. This makes them the oldest pure aboriginal tribes in the world.

Scientists opine that rising waters of the ocean isolated these tribes who remained in the Andaman Islands.  It has now been established that the Jarawas are descendents of the 4 ancient Negroid tribes from Africa.    It is estimated that the tribes now number  about 250-400 as no proper census of these tribes can be done in the deep jungles

The Jarawas have lived an isolated life till the end of the 20th century. But from 1998 with the construction of the great Andaman trunk road through the tribal jungles the jarawas have interacted with the migrants.  Earlier they had spurned all attempts to contact them. The language of these tribals is Aka-Bea which is an almost extinct tribal language of the great Andaman.

 The life of the Jarawas is  simple and they subsist  on hunting and fishing.  Pig, lizard and fish form part of their diet.  They also collect honey, berries and seeds from the jungle. They have a nomadic existence and live in groups of about 50.

The Jarawas are facing a big threat to their existence. The great Andaman trunk road is in a way a culprit.  This road passing through the tribal lands has brought them in contact with tourists and Indians. These contacts have affected their body immune system. The tribes suffered outbreak of measles in 1999 and 2006. Luckily no one died.

Another bigger danger is from unscrupulous tour operators and tourists. The matter came to the fore when a video of tribal women dancing in semi naked attire was aired in London by The Guardian and the weekly The Observer.

 The Home Minister Mr. Chidambaram himself was seized of this and flew out to Andaman Islands on 21 January, 2011. It is now decided to enforce Aboriginal Tribes Regulation Act, 1956, more stringently. Recently the police arrested 2 tour operators who were involved in taking the tourists for the video shoot.

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Madhushan Muthukumar
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Posted on Jan 28, 2012