Thursday, 14 April 2011

Jarawas of Andamans- a forgotten tribe

Miles and miles of dense rain forests stretch on as the sumo continues its bumpy ride to Baratung. I shift and struggle to remain seated. Our convoy might have had atleast fifty vehicles, all continuing the 45 kms stretch lead by a bush police on bike. I have seen many pictures of the Jarawas in Daddy's photo albums from the Andamans dating back to 1973. Wearing only colored roots as dress, holding bows and arrows, the Jarawas of Andamans always have fascinated me. After nearly forty years, i might be lucky to see one of them in the Reserve. The Jarawa Reserve is a dense rain forest starting from Junglighat and extending till Baratung. It is said these tribals never move beyond this island. The Great Andaman Trunk Road is said to be a perfect recipe to disaster for the Jarawa tribes, but simply to ignore the hardwork- the years of painstaking labour, the sacrifices of poor Tamil labourers who built the road, the bush police who had laid down their lives protecting these road workers is incongruous.

Who owns this Paradise?- Jarawas or Government?

Daddy had worked as a Jawabdar in early 1970s when the road was first laid straight inside Jarawa heartland. He used to describe the hardships there, the leeches, the horror of people struck by tribal arrows and the miles he had walked on with a small trunk box on his head. When we alighted at Junglighat waiting for the convoy to muster, Daddy showed the camps where he had stayed. The journey went smoothly till we had our first look at the Jarawa children, all wearing shorts, begging at each vehicle. Shocking, they were asking for biscuits and tobacco. Children aged 6 or 7, begging for tobacco, armed with bows, arrows and sickles. Photography of Jarawas is punishable offence and interacting with them too. We had already locked the doors of the vehicle, but the Jarawa children were trying to unlock them from outside. All this happened within a few seconds the vehicle slowed down. 

Picture of Enmey- the first Jarawa contact with outsiders
A few minutes more into the journey, we see a Jarawa woman, armed with a bow. Two more men stand guard and she comes around the vehicle looking for food. I tried to look into her eyes, all i could see was hunger and anger. Civilisation has not touched her. For some strange reason, though the men wear clothes, the women don't. Worse still, she tried to dance, some strange movement and then extended her arms for begging. That was the moment i felt ashamed- ashamed at being a woman, ashamed that even sixty years after Independence, our sisters remain undressed and ashamed that we have taught the uncivilised tribals how to beg. Hearts heavy, our vehicle moves away as we see many more such tribals begging. Government forbids any contact with Jarawas due to the risk of disease, by the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation,1956. But the rules just remain in book, many of the tribals have become addicted to tobacco, their children to biscuits and cakes and their women to rampant sexual exploitation. Though they remain antagonistic to the tourists taking the Andaman Trunk Road, they remain friendly with the bush policemen and the road workers. 

Some of them have even approached a school in Tirur to have their children educated. The issue of Jarawas is complex, they remain fiercely protective of their tribal roots and discipline with total disregard for outsiders. May be that is the reason why the Government can't bring them to schools and proper settlements. It is ironic when organisations say they would like the Jarawas to remain per se. Is it not our duty to atleast let them don clothes and eat a decent meal? Forced settlement of these tribes had been on the cards, but dropped. Simply saying, the Government is clueless as to how to settle these isolated people and take care of them. But poaching, land grabbing, illegal tourism and exploitation will wipe out the Jarawas soon, there are only a few hundreds of them left. The Andaman and Nicobar administration is still deaf to the voices of Jarawas. I hope the Central Government sits up and takes notice of this issue and settles down these poor tribals before it is too late...


  1. The Government is aware of this fact and I was told that they have taken the policy of non interference with them. They have not fully accepted us yet but still if they are ill they come to the main road and were taken to the hospital every now and then. The one thing that government should do is to try and stop this jarawa tourism and promote more sea based journeys.Since I work in a tribal area where Primitive groups with bows and arrows still exist I personally feel they should be left to themselves. Otherwise they loose their treasured culture and customs which are far more superior than our customs and practices and indeed they are more advanced and more natural too.

  2. This is a really good post. I have driven through ANI Jarawa areas but never seen any of them. I agree with you about ensuring development reaches them as you say there are a lot of issues about preservation of their ethinicity.

  3. Dear Ronald, thanks a lot for your visit and treasured comment on my blog. There is no denying the fact that the tribal culture and customs are far more nature oriented and thereby better than our own, but still dressing up the women decently is what irks me the most. They are more vulnerable to nepotistic tourists. Non interference has its own pros and cons. Though it might help them preserve their own culture, lack of basic amenities in the dense forests deprives them of the basic right to medical care. If the ATR was not there, where would the ill and sick go? I am still confused. They might be resettled, allowed to follow their customs in areas with basic civic amenities...

    1. Are the Jawara people of African heritage? If so, is any one aware of their history? What language(s) do they speak? Can anyone point me to where I could find more information about them?

  4. Dear Meera, thanks a lot for your comment. I too wish they are settled properly, especially the womenfolk:(

  5. hi nive...nice one from u after some time. this is a complicated issue.apart from jarwas, u have other tribes like onges, sentinalese and shompens in ANI and even in mainland too u have many tribal belts.u can get a point from nilagiri thodars who have joined mainstream.

  6. Its always about which is the better evil. I always wondered where were these modern medicines and so called civilized practices just 100 years ago. they could survive 1000 years but they are now vulnerable within this span of 100-150 years. They have a particular way of lifestyle and they are used to it. Only after our interference that they have become UNDERPRIVILEGED, VULNERABLE, UNCIVILIZED, PRIMITIVE etc.. Moreover they were preached that they are downtrodden and uncivilized that they have now come to believe that they are so.To be honest I don't believe there will be the existence of true tribes in another 25 years in India

  7. Nivedita, I wanted to tell you how much I love reading what you write. I have therefore selected you to receive an award. It is on my site. Do come and claim it. Ciao!

  8. Dear Ramnath, Thanks for your comment. I have to agree with you about the Ongese, Great Andamanese, Nicobarese. These tribes have settled down well in good jobs and are better off than most of us! Thanks to initiatives of few daring Officials in AN administration.

  9. Dear Ronald, what i still doubt is- should the tribes exist as tribes, just for us to read in books as specimens? Are they not entitled to decent education, dress and livelihood? Why must they continue to live as tribes? Civilisation is continuous evloving- even Darwin's Evolution Theory says Evolution is a continuous process. Let them evolve, what say?

  10. 1.I have heard of thse ppl earlier and u can reach them only wit a Helper from police, who understand their language. they go wit those police once in a while to bazzar get their basic requires..
    2.In coimbatore they tried to run a rehabilitation camp for beggers ...but all of them eluded.. since they just were adopted to that way of life.
    3.even we have ppl like tat in our karaiyar,(papanas) a remote village near ooty (i forgot name).. if we go to resettle them ..that may be the worst thing our state holds for them. ( even now TN GOVT announced RS.10 Lac incentive for ppl leaving Karaiyaru Kanikudiyiruppu). for the reason of making it as a Tiger reserve.

    4.The best thing the state has got to do "a. recognise their skills in making forest products..(honey, forest produces etc)
    b.give them opportunity to market theirs to state.
    c.IN turn.. provide them wit their basic requirements..

    "should the tribes exist as tribes, just for us to read in books as specimens? Are they not entitled to decent education, dress and livelihood? "- A Million USD Qn . . .this Qn itself is worth wrting a Blog.
    But one thing if u want to really civilise them shortly then align A& N wit TN..
    1.Kalanidi will turn them couch givin Re.5/- a day for watching his TV.(and a FM too is here).
    2.they will circulate a paper and for reading it the incentive is Re.1
    3.MK will bcome ppl's leader wit his free rice,TV,gas stove (whic they can sell for their livelihood)
    4.DMK Ministers will go on purchase lands at JARAWA reserve to park their excess money(world is not enough)
    So now Jarawa is MKs own country(like TN).
    so if JARAWA is now ready to tke up the challenge..??

  11. Dear Anonymous, hahaha...thats some comment! I am spell bound! You can better start a blog by yourself ya. So nice comparison- MK family sucking out the Jarawas too...Why worry when we are there???;)


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