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Tsunami Affects Some of Asia’s Last Stone Age Tribes

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The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Andaman Sea are home to Asia’s last Stone Age tribes.

There are six main groups:

1. the 270 strong Jarava;
2. the 100 member Onge;
3. the 50 – 250 member Sentinelese;
4. the 41 member Great Andamanese;
5. the 380 Shompen;
6. and the 30,000 member Nicobarese.

The Associated Press reports that “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.”

IPSNews reports that “Survival International (SI), a London-based group that tries to defend the world’s most vulnerable indigenous peoples, said that four of the five most isolated groups on the islands – the Jarawa, the Onge, the sentinelese, and the Great Andamanese – may have suffered little, if any loss of life.”

Sophie Grig, SI’s Andamans campaigner, said she expected the isolated communities to be less affected in the long term because they do not rely on an extensive infrastructure.

“They build their own houses, hunt their own food and are entirely self-sufficient and therefore won’t suffer in the same way as the settler communities who use roads and boat services and rely on others to build their houses or to buy and sell their food,” she told IPS. “As long as the fresh water supplies of the isolated peoples are intact, then they should be able to continue their lives just as they’ve always done.”

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are administered by India, are geographically much closer to Burma and Thailand, stretching along a 435-mile archipelago about 400 miles directly north of the epicenter of the earthquake that triggered the tsunamis that killed at least 150,000 people around the Indian Ocean.”

The survival of these Paleolithic tribes and their way of life has been threatened mainly by the encroachment of settler communities and the roads that cut through their forest.

“In May 2002, the Indian Supreme Court ordered that road to be closed, settlers removed from the area and all logging banned, but the government has so far been slow to enforce its decree.”

Grig said that, “the isolated peoples should not be grouped together with other communities and given rations and other supplies that they might come to depend on. The isolated communities have remained isolated from their own choice – they have made it clear that they wish to remain independent from outsiders and have defended themselves and their land from the settlers.” “Therefore, I would imagine that they will continue to resist outside help, even if it’s offered.”

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.

The Indian government turned down offers of international aid for the islands on Monday, saying it had “enough assets at its disposal.”

and:

“Reports from overflights of Sentinel Island, which is home to the most isolated of all the tribes, indicate that the inhabitants survived the waves, greeting a helicopter that flew over the island, which is impossible to reach by sea, with arrows and rocks. SI, however, reported that it could not be fully confident of the fate of the Sentinelese because so little is known about them.”

Read more about this little known and almost extinct group of the tsunami-afflicted region here and here. Read about the work that goes on at Survival International here.

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About Angela Chen Shui