Tsunami, Tribes & Media

News Paper Clippings

26th December 2004. It was the turn of the sea to jump; a great spectacle of deluge after a night long dance to the tune of Christmas. So much life in the previous day sucked into the waves never to return. Impossible it was to escape a mass of water as high as a palm tree rushing at a speed of 700 Kmph. This is Tsunami a japanese name for harbour waves. These waves were triggered by an earth quake of an intensity about 9 on the Richter scale which occurred at 6.29 AM of 26th December 2004 off the coast of Aceh province on the nothern Indonesian island of Sumatra. These waves moved North into the Andaman islands. This earth quake is said to be the fifth largest earth quake since 1900.

This earthquake globalised the disaster. Tsunami struck Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, SriLanka, India, Maldives, of South Asia, reached Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Seychelles of eastern Africa and made the west coast of South and North America feel its effect. Scientists say the earthquake has shaken the planet Earth, made it wobble on its axis. They suspect the islands of the south west coast of Sumatra might have moved to the south west. They are afraid that the map of Asia might have changed.

Tsunami is nothing new in Nature. It has been occurring and will be occurring. The scientists fear 'an erupting volcano in Spain's Canary islands could unleash a mega Tsunami larger than any in recorded history'. If it occurs, 'a wall of water upto 55 yards high would crash into the Atlantic sea board of the USA flattening everything in its path'- predict British and US academics.

Andaman Islands  


Could its occurrence be not predicted? A big NO that comes out as answer. But when one finds no animal casualty, baring a few faithful dogs, as against hundred thousand human deaths, one wonders if the animals could sense the coming of Tsunami. Researchers studying the lifestyle of the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands claim that some tribes of these islands could foresee the coming of Tsunami and escape the disaster from striking them. These researchers also claim to have found the tribals who were not part of the government sponsored welfare program suffered less than those tribals who had been rehabilitated by the state. It is as if those who remained closer to the nature had their instinct intact to sense the disaster than those who came in contact with the 'civilized' world. 'Civilized' world destroyed the mangrove forests to build coastal resorts for tourists, to grow shrimp ponds for delicious prawn on their dining tables. The consequences are obvious. No barrier to the waves inundating the coastal habitats.

Tsunami is a great lesson for the civilized world. It says - do not tamper with nature. Many great civilizations had fallen to the fury of nature. Those who were outside the 'civilization' have survived nature's wrath though their annihilation by the 'civilized' people was not uncommon.

The tribes of Andaman & Nicobar islands are endangered and are considered as missing links with early civilization. Of the six tribes that inhabit these islands Nicobarese are the largest in population (about 30,000). Tsunami has totally wiped out the Car Nicobar island and the Chawra island. The condition of the numerically small Shompen (about 150-200) tribe of Nicobar is yet to be ascertained. The other numerically small tribes are Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarwa, Sentinelesese.

Tsunami 2004 has stirred the humanity. It has thrown challenge to the scientists to predict it. It has made every one to sit up and think how to face an uncertain future of such perilous proportion. It has exposed how limited our knowledge compared to those of the tribes. Media has covered various aspects of Tsunami 2004. A glimpse into media reports would suggest the range of coverage of Tsunami 2004 vis-`-vis the survival of the tribes.

News Paper Clippings
collected and compiled by Jogendra Kumar Behera

  1. Tracing the Terror Of Tsunami
    The Statesman, 27 Dec 04

  2. Clash of plates changes geography
    The Statesman, 28 Dec 04
  3. No information of Andaman Tribes: PTI
    The Statesman, 29 Dec 04
  4. Tsunami reaches USA
    The Statesman, 29 Dec 04

  5. No Information about Jarwas, Onges
    New Indian Express, 29 Dec 04

  6. Earth wobble changed Asia map
    Times Of India, 30 Dec 04

  7. Tribes meet Tsunami Doom
    Sanjay Dutta and Chandrika Mago/TNN, Times Of India, 30 Dec 04
  8. Arrows bring Tribe Tidings

    Bapa Majumdar, The Telegraph, 31 Dec 04
  9. Animals Better at Disaster Management
    The Statesman, 01 Jan 05

  10. Incompetent Scientists?

    Surojit DasGupta in New Delhi, The Statesman, 01 Jan 05
  11. Tribes Could Foresee and won over disaster
    Chanchala Pal Chauhan, The Statesman, 03 Jan 05
  12. Home ravaged, Hunger looms on the Onges
    Reuters, The Telegraph, 06 Jan 05
  13. Jarwas Survive, Refuse to say How: AP
    The Statesman, 08 Jan 05

  14. How last 50 saved themselves from extinction
    The Great Andamanese Escape:

    Neelesh Mishra in PortBalir, The Statesman, 09 Jan 05

  15. Tribal Seek Aid, Not Homes
    The Telegraph, 15 Jan 05

  16. In quest of the forgotten
    Saikat Datta, Outlook, Special Issue, 17 Jan 05


Tracing the Terror Of Tsunami

Dec. 26. The unprecedented tsunami strike in South Asia worked like a monster suction pump taking in everyone and everything in its path that spanned at least 4,000 km.

The force of the tidal waves was such that it tore children away from their parents' arms at Sumatra and submerged two-thirds of Male, the Capital of Maldives, 3,862 km away.
Multiple earthquakes at Sumatra displaced the Indian Ocean, creating waves that looked like normal waves that lash the coast, but were terribly different.
A storm creates a wind-generated swell that rolls in with a rhythm, which at its worst has wavelengths the distance between two wave crests of 150 metres coming in every ten seconds.
Today's tsunami moved at 500 kmph creating wavelengths of over 100 km, rolling in one hour apart. It transformed dramatically at it reached the Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand coasts. Then it triggered an impact at Andamans giving itself further muscle to set itself on course to India and Sri Lanka, 1,600 km away.
On approaching shallow waters it slowed and gained heights making itself into giant walls of water that hit the coasts in cycles, each increasingly ferocious. This was pronounced at Bangkok, and Jakarta, 1,200 and 1,600 km respectively from Sumatra.
A Brition, Mr Paul Ramsbottom, holidaying at a beach resort at Phuket, Thailand, told BBC: "There would be a surge and then it would' retreat and then there would be a next surge which was more violent and it went on like that."
When it finally reached the coasts, it may have appeared as a rapidly rising or falling tide or as a series of breaking waves, the University of Washington's site on tsunami explained.
Waves of six to eight metres slammed the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu coasts.
At Kakinada, Mr P Ramamurthy described the scene: "I saw innumerable fishing boats flying on the shoulder of the waves, going back and forth into the sea, as if made of paper".
Today's disaster has only one comparable precedent. The world's biggest earthquake off Chile's coast, 9.5 Richter, set off tidal waves that rocked the Pacific Rim in 1960. Around 56 were killed in Hawaii, 32 in Philippines and 138 in Japan 17,000 km from Chile..

Expert Speak:

CHENNAI Dec. 26. - The tsunami that hit the coastal districts of South India is a rare phenomenon created in

association with earthquakes, meteorologist of the Regional Meteorological Centre, Mr PCS Rao, said.
Only once before in September 2001 did Chennai experience mild tremors, caused by an earthquake with an intensity of 5.6 on the Richter scale with the epicenter in Pondicherry. According to Mr Rao, the rare phenomenon of a tsunami had occurred once long ago in Chennai in 1941 due to an earthquake in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. "Unfortunately, the documentation is not dear," he said.
The waves on earth travel faster, but sea waves take time.' Witnesses spoke about huge ships being tossed around by the waves. "One ship turned around so fast, it created a whirlpool," port sources said.-SNS
No information of Andaman Tribes: PTI

Kolkata, 28 Dec 04: How are the Jorwas, Onges and Sentinelese tribes doing? Could the six aboriginal tribes have survived the killer Tsunami waves that slammed the Andaman and Nicobar Islands? It is a matter of serious concern that we have not received any information of about these most endangered tribes considered as the missing links with early civilisation, a spokesman of the anthropological survey of India said here Today.
The world's last aboriginal tribes were the Jorwas, Onges, Shompen, Sentinelese, Nicobarese and Great Andamanese and even after Two days there was no information on the innumerable islets inhabited by them in the Andamans. He said the ASI region of center at Port Blair could not be contacted due to total break down in the communication system.
Telephones are not working and there is no system of communication with the adjacent islands to keep track of the aboriginal tribes, He said. The ASI, the spokesman said was making efforts to contact its base offices in the Andaman.
Hoping that these aboriginal tribes survived natures fury, he said They may be alright. Jorwas and Onges are good swimmers and are adept at overcoming adverse maritime conditions. However we are awaiting reports about them. The ASI, he said, was concerned about the reports from Car Nicobar Island Chawra Island having been totally wiped out by the Tsunamis, Since these islands are the home of the Nicobarese. It is quite likely that the Nicobarese population sensed trouble and left for safer places, he said.
A population of 30 thousand Nicobareses reside in Car Nicobar.
Tsunami reaches USA

Dec. 28. North and South America felt tsunami's effect today as it moved eastwards over North and South Pacific Ocean.
It moved exactly in the opposite direction from Sumatra, through the Indian Ocean, to crash into the eastern coasts of Africa, with water rising over 10 feet.
Tsunami also struck the coasts of Cocos Island, Kenya, Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles. It crossed into the Pacific Ocean and was recorded along the west coast of South and North America," US Geological Survey's web update said. This overtakes the 1960 Chile tsunami, in terms of making its presence felt right around the world.
As the tsunami reached new areas, the worst affected is Somalia, 6,000 km west of Sumatra. The Somali President said today that entire villages and coastal towns were swept away.
The Jamaica Observer said, waves traveled 3 km inland, along riverbeds, in some parts of Somalia.
The tsunami effect forced Kenya to close down all beaches. The situation was similar in Tanzania, 7,200 km from the epicenter, where several low-lying areas are flooded. One person had died and nine were reported missing from Seychelles, north-east of Madagascar, 6,500 km from Sumatra, the International Herald Tribune reported.

Clash of plates changes geography

Dec. 27. The collision between the India and Myanmar plates snapped over 1,000 km in the Earth's crust beneath the sea floor, moving the Myanmar plate 40 feet over the Indian plate causing a series of earthquakes that continued today. Forty feet is the height of a standard four-storied building.
The quake changed geography. "The magnitude 9.0 earthquake moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet to the southwest, pushing up a tsunami that devastated shorelines around the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea," The Los Angeles Tunes reported, quoting seismologists.
Today, a 6.3 Richter quake rocked Sumatra at 3.09 p.m. Earlier, at 6.20 a.m. (1ST) a 6.1Richter quake shook the Andamans. Since the first quake, a staggering 32 aftershocks have hit the region, 18 of them in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands alone. The worst, 7.3 Richter hit Nicobar at 9.51 a.m. yesterday and the least, 5.4 Richter, hit the Andamans later that day at 5.30 p.m., according to the US Geological Survey which is monitoring Asia's seismic activity in real time. Tsunami also slammed eastern Africa. In Somalia, 14 were reported killed.
"Off the west coast of northern Sumatra, the India plate is moving in a north-eastward direction at about 5 cm per year relative to the Burma plate", their website said.
The Christian Science Monitor best described the tsunamis triggered by the quakes: "The sudden shift in plate-boundary heights was like slapping the underside of a full pail of water".
University of Southern Californias Professor Costas Synolakis and tsunami researcher said this was the first tsunami in the Indian Ocean since 1883. "Because of its magnitude the whole Earth would be ringing like a bell for a long time. That will be like a gigantic medical CT scan, allowing researchers to study the structure of Earth's interior in detail," he said.

No Information about Jarwas, Ongis

Kolkata, Dec. 28: How are the Jarwas, Ongis and Sentenelese tribes doing? Could the six aboriginal tribes have survived the killer tsunami waves that slammed the Andaman and Nicobar islands?

"It is a matter of serious concern that we have not received any information about these most endangered tribes considered as the missing link with early civilisation," a spokesman of the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) said here on Tuesday.
The world's last aboriginal tribes were the Jarwas, Ongis, Shompen, Sentenelese, Nicobarese and Great Andamanese and even after two days there was no information from the innumerable islets inhabited by them in the Andamans.
He said that the ASI's regional centre at Port Blair could not be contacted due to total breakdown in the communication system. "Telephones are not working and there is no system of communication with the adjacent islands to keep track of the aboriginal tribes," he regretted. The ASI, the spokesman said, was making efforts to contact its base offices in the Andamans.
Hoping that these aboriginal tribes survived nature's fury on Boxing Day, he said. "They may be all right. Jarwas and Ongis are good swimmers and are adept at overcoming adverse maritime conditions. However, we are awaiting reports about them."
The ASI, he said, was concerned about the reports from Car Nicobar islands and Chawra islands having been totally wiped out by the tsunamis, since these islands are the home of the Nicobarese.
"It is quite likely that the Nicobarese population sensed trouble and left for safer places," he said.
A population of 30,000 Nicobarese reside in Car Nicobar.
According to the latest Census of these tribes, there were at present 266-270 Jarwas, 98-100 Ongis, 150-200 Shompen, 200-250 Sentenelese and only 40-45 Great Andamanese.


The aborigines in Andaman and Nicobar islands are safe, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Tuesday night.
While the Ongi people escaped the tsunami disaster as they located at slightly higher places, the islands inhabiting Sentinel and Jarwas have not been affected by the tidal waves, Mukherjee, who visited the islands along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, told reporters here- PTI


Earth wobble changed Asia map

Paris: The most dramatic seismic shock in more than 40 years made the earth wobble on its axis and permanently changed the geology of the surrounding area, scientists say it was like "flicking a top", said Paul Tapponnier. head of the tectonics laboratory at the Institute de Physique du Globe (IPG), France's leading centre for the earth sciences.
Tapponnier said the quake deep beneath the Pacific Ocean lasted a "colossal" 200 seconds, building up huge amounts of energy in the sea that drove towering waves onto beaches throughout south Asia.
"That earthquake has changed the map," US Geological Survey expert Ken Hudnut said.
Hudnut said seismic modelling suggested the quake may have moved small islands by as much as 20 metres, and the northwestern tip of the Indonesian territory of Sumatra may also have shifted to the southwest by around 36 metres. "That is a lot of slip," he said.
The energy released as the two sides of the geological fault line deep under the sea slipped against each other would have made the Earth wobble on its axis, Hudnut said.
Tapponnier said the quake caused slippage of the earth's surface along a front extending for 100 km. He said there may also have been vertical movements that possibly pushed the island of Siberut, 100 km west of Sumatra, one or two metres higher, although it would be impossible to check this scientifically because of guerrilla activity in the area.
Tapponnier said it was also possible that some regions of Sumatra south of the equator have been completely swallowed up. He said it was not rare for earthquakes to alter geological features. "Earthquakes are the architects of landscapes," he said. "All the mountains have been modeled by earthquakes."
Tapponnier said the massive 1960 earthquake off the coast of Chile shifted the local landscape by 20 meters. A quake in Alaska in 1964 pushed islands higher and sank oyster beds 12 metres under the surface.
However, Stuart Sipkin, of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden Colorado, said it was more likely that the islands had risen higher out of the sea than they had moved laterally. AFP

Tribes meet Tsunami Doom

New Delhi: An enormous Anthropological Disaster is in the making. The killer Tsunami is feared to have wiped out entire tribes- already threatened by their precariously small number- perhaps rendering them extinct and snapping a slender tie with a lost generation.
Officials involved in rescue operations are pessimistic but still keeping their fingers crossed for the Sentinelese and Nicobarese, The two tribes seen as bearing the major brunt of the killer waves.
The bigger fear is for the Sentinelesese, anthropologically the most important tribe, living on the flat North Sentinel Island. Putting their population at about hundred, officials say no body count is possible, as the tribe had remained isolated. The Island is still there, is all one official will say. But going by the scale of devastation the fate of the tribals is anybodys guess.
The Nicobarese number about twenty-five thousand, are also feared to have suffered major losses if not mere extinction.

A World Lost Forever?

Great Andamanese: Population: 40. Once the largest tribal group. Bust most fell prey to communicable diseases in 1860s after contact with the British. GOI has been looking after them since 1968. They are settled in straight island, about sixty kms from port blair.
Onges: POP: 100. They inhabit little Andaman. At present, concentrated in two settlements, at Dugong creek in the North Eastern corner of the island and south bay. Semi nomadic and fully dependent on food gathering. Efforts to befriend them have been successful.
Jarowa: POP: 266. Inhabit the western coast of the middle and south Andaman. Have been traditionally hostile to encroachers. They have lately shown a willingness to interact with Non-Tribals but Anthropologists are debating how much contact should be encouraged.
Sentinelese: POP: 100. Inhabit North Sentinel island. Perhaps the most isolated community in the world but culturally and biologically. Hostile towards outsiders and all efforts at initiating contact have proved unsuccessful.
Shompens: POP: 250. Only primitive tribe of Mongoloid stock. Scattered over the Great Nicobar Island. Semi Nomadic, hunting and fishing tribes.


Arrows bring Tribe Tidings

Port Blair, Dec. 30: For once, the coast guard chopper did not mind retreating under fire. Around 2 pm today, arrows began flying at the helicopter on a mission to draw up a situation report on the endangered tribals of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The arrow attack was the surest sign yet that the tribe has survived the tsunami.
Spotting a batch of 20 to 30 people on the North Sentinelese Island, the pilot shed altitude to take a closer look. If he had any doubt, it was removed when the tribesmen, known for their hostility towards intruders, fired the arrows.
If a ground count eventually puts the number at 30, it will account for almost all the Sentinelese known to be inhabiting the island.
Officials were upbeat about other tribes, too. "Our helicopters and naval ships have confirmed that the exotic tribes  Sentinelese, the Onges, the Shompens, the Great Andamanese and the Jarawas - are all safe. They have survived nature's fury," said Arun Kumar Singh, the vice-admiral and director-general of the coast guard.
The navy and the coastguard have been mounting multiple missions to track the tribes down in the face of growing concern about the fate of some of the world's most endangered groups.
However, a Onge woman is missing from a batch of 16 on South Bay.
The tribal welfare department has mounted a search for the young Onge woman who was last spotted near the beach on South Bay on December 25.
"We have counted only 15 Onges on the settlement. The woman is definitely missing," said a senior tribal welfare officer.
But inspector-general S.B. Deol said most of the tribes are safe and if anything had gone wrong, the authorities would have known.
"They are very friendly these days. Apart from the Sentinelese, the others ask for medical aid and are even hospitalised, if required. No untoward reports concerning them has reached us," added Deol.
The rest of the 80 Onges of the 96-member group stay in Dugong Creek, Little Andaman.

Animals Better at Disaster Management

New Delhi Dec 31: - Estimated Tsunami toll: 100,000. All humans no animals! Well, hardly any. The only animal casualties were those of a few stray dogs who perhaps were reluctant to shun their neighbourhood "masters" though they too must have sensed the danger before hand.
The supposed experts on animal behaviors, wild life officials in Sri Lanka, expressed surprise that they found no evidence of animal deaths from the weekends massive Tsunami- indicating that animals may have sensed the wave coming and fled to higher ground. The fact augurs well with the Para-science conjecture of bestial sixth sense. An AP photographer had flown over Sri Lanka's Yala National Park in an Air Force helicopter and was amazed to see wild life, including elephants, buffalo, deer, and not a single animal corpse.
Flood waters from the Tsunami swept into the park, uprooting trees, decimating jetties, tossing massive steamers over bridges, turning cars upside down, Mr. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, owner of the Jetwing Eco Holidays, a hotel in the park, said, The animals apparently were not harmed and may have sought out high ground adding, this is very interesting. I am finding human bodies, but I am yet to see a dead animal. His hotel in the park was totally destroyed in Sundays Tsunami surge. May be what we think is true, that animals have a sixth sense, Mr. Wijeyeratne said.
Yala, Sri Lankas largest wildlife reserve, is home to 200 Asian elephants, crocodiles, wild boars, water buffalos and gray languor monkeys. The park also has Asias highest concentration of Leopards. No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit, I think animals can sense disaster. They have a sixth sense an official said.

Incompetent Scientists?

Dec 31- Politicians are the favorite scapegoats of media but it should not be overruled that yesterdays Home Ministry Vs Science & Tech. Ministry standoff could not have happened without the faux pass of the scientists.

The debate as to whether the hoax alarm was raised by an Australian or an American firm is trivial. What were our scientists doing when the hoax was raised? Why did it take them half a day to realise, and then, tell , the ministers that earthquakes couldn't be predicted? Notably, yesterday when Mr Sibal was running out of answers facing a barrage of disconcerting questions, why did not the scientists sitting next to him come to his rescue? It was they, after all, who must have first supported the alert theory and then denounced it. Neither Mr. Patil nor Mr. Sibal has the requisite acumen to judge the veracity of reports on science,"
In the "hogwash" conference, Dr Harsh Gupta was fumbling while explaining that earthquake prediction was impossible. Dr Mashelkar did not utter a word. The day before, Dr VS Ramamurthy's postulates, too, were not sounding categorical. We have known the glorious academic and professional careers of these authorities on science. So, are they under, pressure to keep silent during press meets and endorse politicians' viewpoints, thus saving the latter's skin and also their own?

Another theory

NEW DELHI, Dec. 31.- Yesterdays faux pas wasn't enough. We still nave more theories coming forth, on the source of that false alarm.

Today, it was revealed by sources in the Indian Meteorological Department that it was their director, seismology, Mr R S Dattatreyam, who had sent the tsunami prediction to the director, national disaster management, home ministry, Mr. S. K. Swami. SNS.
Tribes Could Foresee and won over disaster

New Delhi Jan. 2- Scientists might have problem in understanding Tsunami disaster but some tribes of Andaman and Nicobar have the foresight of the natural calamity and managed to leave their villages hours before the tsunami disaster struck coastline.
JNU researchers, who are in the island studying the tribals lifestyle, claimed that tribals who were not part of government sponsored welfare programs suffered less than those tribals who had been rehabilitated by the state.
Professor Anvita Abbi, Centre of Linguistic and English JNU, who is conducting a research project in these islands said that one of her research student Pramod Kumar (Still in Andaman and Nicobar islands) told her that Jarawa tribe were able to understand and interpret the changing patterns of wave hours before the disaster struck, last Sunday. Jarwa tribes then climbed off to higher places and survived the devastation, she claims.
One of the unnamed tribal aged between 65 to 68 years had told Pramod yesterday, the his grandfather has cautioned him on the Tsunami during his childhood.
"When this tribal saw the changing patterns of waves, he raised an alarm and saved his community from the calamity." she says.
The historical facts confirm that there have been similar Tsunami calamity in 1941 in the same area which had also caused widespread damage and researchers say that these tribals have developed natural instincts to visualise such disasters.
However, in past over five -decades many of the islands tribes have been rehabilitated like Shompen and Nicobarese. Researchers claim' that government rehabilitation program might have been responsible in disturbing the lives and instincts of these tribes.
We found out that these tribes are extremely intelligent agile and responsive. They are also very receptive and respond fast to changes and have developed percept relations with their ecology, surroundings, sea waves, winds and even sea life.
They are not dumb assumed by the civilised world and: have been able to set an perfect equilibrium in their own world. said Professor Abbi.
These tribes despite being the last specimen of Neolithic age in South- East Asia have been able to maintain their rich Intellectual base of medicinal and efficacious use of the bio diversity and animals available.
As the project Vanishing Voices of the Great Andaman being carried on by JNU, is blocked due to Tsunami researchers opine that the present natural calamity may well be the reason to get some education on their knowledge.
Failures of some tribe to respond to tsunami again shows that we should not disturb their lives. They live a eco-friendly and we should not destroy it for our benefit" said prof. Alvi.

Home ravaged, Hunger looms on the Onges

Cloud on Stone Age survivors
Delhi Clears air on tribes


Cloud on Stone Age survivors

Port Blair, Jan. 5 - One of the world's last remaining Stone Age hunter-gatherer tribes survived the tsunami but the damage caused to their habitat may eventually wipe them out, experts said.

The Onge tribe on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could run out of food mostly marine species as their inland estuaries have been flooded by sea water and coastal mangroves destroyed, they said.
Although authorities say that the most primitive tribal groups on the islands are safe after the tsunami struck 10 days ago, there has been no word on the fate of nearly 25 Onges, a quarter of the tribe's total population.
"While a majority of the tribes are physically safe, we believe a tribe like the Onge is in grave danger as their habitat may have been badly affected," said Samir Acharya, secretary of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology.
"These tribals live a need-based life where destruction to a particular natural resource could make all the difference between survival and extinction," he said.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a remote cluster of more than 550 islands of which only about three dozen are inhabited, are home to about six tribes of Mongoloid and Negrito origin who have lived there for thousands of years.
Many of these tribal people are hunter-gatherers who arm themselves with spears, bows and arrows, dress in tree bark or leaves and shun links with the outside world.
Experts had feared that some of these tribes could have been wiped out after the killer waves smashed into the remote archipelago.
The December 26 tsunami, triggered by an undersea earthquake off Indonesia, has killed about 150,000 people across south and Southeast Asia.
While the largest tribe, the Nicobarese, has a population of more than 20,000, more primitive groups like the Sentinelese, ShomPen and Jarawa number only a few dozen or a few hundred.
The Onges are a Negrito tribe whose numbers have dwindled to about 100 people from an estimated 600 in 1901.
At least 5,000 people are feared to have died on the tropical Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Most of the victims were Nicobarese living in villages along the coastline.
Many tribal people fled deep into the jungles after the tsunami and have been too scared to emerge since, authorities said, adding that they were believed to be surviving on coconuts, bananas and wild berries.
Authorities have so far provided little relief to the most primitive tribal groups, partly because of concerns about intruding into their highly protected existence.
"We still do not have any information whatsoever about 20-25 Onges who had settled on South Bay in Little Andaman, which is roughly a fourth of their total population," said a senior anthropologist.
"And the rest who had been evacuated from their Dugong Creek settlement to higher ground have been living among settlers for a week now, which is very worrying as they have reportedly begun getting used to alcohol and tobacco."

Delhi Clears air on tribes

New Delhi, Jan. 5:

The government today released 2001 Census figures for rare Andaman and Nicobar tribes along with a preliminary assessment of the situation in the islands to clear the confusion over the fate of the tribals.
Although initial fears that the killer waves may have wiped out many of these primitive tribes have proved wrong, the authorities do not yet have a clear picture of the exact extent of the devastation. Many of these tribals have fled to the thick tropical jungles in the remote archipelago and the Centre is in no position to say how many have been killed.
There are six main tribes living in the islands. Of these, five Andamanese, Jarawas, Onges, Sentinelese and ShomPens are primitive. The sixth, Nicobarese, are numerically the largest.
According to the 2001 Census, the Andamanese numbered 43, Jarawas around 240, Onges 96, Sentinelese 39, ShomPens 398 and the Nicobarese 28,653.
The Andarnanese, most of whom lived in Strait Island, are safe, though their dwellings have been damaged.
The Jarawas, who like the Andamanese have a Negrito origin, are all safe, according to the authorities. Among the most primitive tribes, they live in six villages in Andaman.
Latest reports say the Onges who live in two villages in Port Blair are safe and have taken shelter in the hill and forest areas.
So far, no contact has been established with the Sentinelese, who shun links with the outside world. However, they have been sighted during aerial surveys over the North Sentinel Island. The Centre assumes the Sentinelese are safe.
The ShomPens, who live in the southernmost part of Nicobar Island, are scattered over 17 villages. All bridges in this area are damaged and efforts are on to reach the ShomPens by foot. Although they were feared to have been the worst affected, aerial surveys have shown they are more or less safe as they had fled to the forests.
The Nicobarese are the worst affected. At least 3,000 of them are missing.
Jarwas Survive, Refuse to say How: AP

JIRKATANG (Andaman & Nicobar), Jan 7. Armed with bows and arrows, seven men from the ancient Jarwa tribe came out of the forest for the first time since the Andaman and Nicobar islands were battered by the tsunami. In a rare meeting with outsiders, the men said today that all-250 member of the tribe escaped inland and were surviving on coconuts. He, however, did not elaborate on how they managed to escape.
"We are all safe after the earthquake. We are in the forest in Balughat," Ashu, one of the men, said. Even though the Jarwas sometimes meet local officials to receive government-funded supplies, the tribe is wary of visitors.
"My world is in the forest, Ashu said through an interpreter in a restricted forest area at the northern end of South Andaman Island. "Your world is outside. We don't like people from outside."
Anthropologists estimate that the island's more primitive tnbes Jarwas, Great Andamanese, Onges, Sentinelese and Shompen have dwindled to between 400 and 1,000.
Government officials and anthropologists have speculated that the ancient knowledge of the movement of wind sea nod birds may have saved the indigenous tribes from Tsunami. But Ashu and his companions refused to talk about how they avoided the waves.
The seven Jarwa men  wearing only underwear and amulet emerged from the forest to meet government officials, accompanied by two reporters and a photographer.
Ashu, who said he was in his early 20s, gave his name and those of three others of his tribe- Danna, Lah, and Tawai. The men stopped the photographers from taking pictures. "We fall sick if we are photographed," Ashu said

How last 50 saved themselves from extinction
The Great Andamanese Escape:

Jan. 8. The last few dozen remaining members of an ancient indigenous tribe in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands said they raced up a mountain to escape a devastating tsunami  and avoid extinction. No one was hurt. Everyone is all right," Jiroki, the king of the Great Andamanese tribe, said on Friday from a hospital in Port Blair.
"The water was rushing up very fast. It seemed to be following us" said his wife, Surmayee. "We stayed in the forest for 5 days. There was some rice. We ate that. Then there was nothing, so we went hungry." The Great Andamanese were once the largest tribe in the region with an estimated population of 10,000 in 1789. The government says only 43 Great Andamanese remain, while Jiroki says there are 50, of whom 10 are his children.
Anthropologists believe the five ancient tribes- including the Jorwas, Shompens, Onges and Sentinelese date back seventy thousand years.
Rescuers last week brought the remaining Great andamanese tribe people to port Blair in the wake of the massive 26th Dec Earth quake and resulting Tsunami. Jiroki whose tribe lives in a forest on Strait Island in the south of the Archipelago, seized the opportunity to seek treatment for epilepsy at state run hospital. Speaking in broken Hindi, Jiroki and Surmayee said that when the earthquake jolted their homes on Strait Island, they ordered the tribe to flee "I am the king. They follow what I say," said Jiroki, wearing a red T-shirt and shorts.
"We asked the wireless operator to send a message to Port Blair. But the machine and battery had been flooded by the water. They were spoiled." The island's jetty was smashed so no boats' could land. The tribe members' clothes, utensils and other household' articles were all washed away, Surmayee said.
And contrary to speculation by some anthropologists, she said the Great Andamanese did not sense the impending arrival of the tsunamis.
Some experts say the Great Andamanese are a sad example of how indigenous people quickly lose centuries of tradition and culture when they come in contact with the outside world.
"I have written them off. They hardly have a culture or tradition of their own," said Samir Acharya, head of the independent Andaman and Nicobar Society. "They have all forgotten their own dialect They are mostly acting as copycats of the rest of us." The tribe maintains links with government officials, and a police officer, a wireless operator and a doctor's assistant live with them on Strait Island.
Some members of the tribe work in police and government for jobs in Port Blair. The tribal leaders admitted their lifestyles are different from those of their ancestors. "We don't use bows and arrows now, we have given them up. We hunt fish and pigs with spears," Surmayee said.
The Great Andamanese traditionally eat roots, seafood, turtles and turtle eggs, but in recent years have begun eating rice, pulses and bread. But the tribe's increasing exposure to the rest of India has placed it at risk.
"They are exposed to highly communicable diseases besides unhealthy drinking habits which, of course, are acquired after contact with the moribund dominant and advanced communities," according to the Andaman and Nicobar government website. Surmayee was ready Friday to leave the city and return home. "I want to go back. I don't like it here. I am used to being in the forest," she said. But her husband disagreed. "We feel nice interacting with the outside world. Earlier our heart was only in hunting," Jiroki said.
"There were no movies, nothing". AP

Tribal Seek Aid, Not Homes

New Delhi, Jan. 14: The tsunami-affected tribals in Andaman and Nicobar Islands want to build their houses themselves and only expect the government to help with money and raw materials like timber and bamboo. Union tribal affairs minister P.R. Kyndiah, who returned to the capital yesterday after visiting the affected islands, said the tribals did not favor the government constructing homes for them. Kyndiah today said he has already contacted the governments of Bengal and Kerala for supplying timber and bamboo to the affected islands.
The Supreme Court has recently eased a ban on cutting trees in the Andamans to meet the need for urgent reconstruction. Kyndiah said people belonging to various aboriginal tribes in the islands were safe though some tribes, including the Nicobarese, Sentinelese and the Shompens, were hit hard by the tsunami. "All tribes, including the Onges, Sentinelese and the Jarwas, in the islands are safe. There is no question of extinction of any tribe."
The minister pointed out that the government had already "fine-tuned and streamlined the entire relief operations in the islands". The target would be to rehabilitate the affected people before the onset of monsoon by end April.

In quest of the forgotten

Where the Shompen Tribesmen washed away? The question still hunts the authorities as the hunt goes on


A recent photograph released by the coast guard shows a Sentinelese tribesman taking aim at a low-flying helicopter. The hostile gesture recorded while flying over the North Sentinel Island, west of Port Blair, convinced the authorities that the Sentineles one of the world's few surviving Paleolithic tribes numbering 200-250 has survived the disaster.
Another reclusive tribe, the Shompens, has become a cause for concern. Enough to make Lieutenant General B.S. Thakur, Goc-in-C, Andaman and Nicobar, order a special mission to the Great Nicobar island to trace the whereabouts of what many in the military establishment fear may be a lost tribe.
The Shompens are still isolated from the relief efforts and their fate depends on whether the landing parties dispatched by the integrated relief command locates them. "All we have right now are two members of the Shompen tribe who managed to reach Campbell Bay and were evacuated along with the others. We have identified a strip on the island where we can land a small party including the two Shompen tribesmen. Through them we hope to establish contact and only then we will be in a position to ascertain their condition," Lt. Gen Thakur told Outlook.
The mainland media has been flush with reports that the tribes have all survived. But Outlook has learnt that the search party still has no clue about the Shompens who had all along lived on the southern-most tip of the Great Nicobar island. As it is, even before the tsunami struck, their population had already dwindled to about 200 and their numbers had been going down with each year.
Believed to be residing in the Alexandra and Galathia river areas and also on the east coast of the island, the Shompens have always isolated themselves from the outside world. Unlike the Nicobarese who have become completely integrated with the outside world, the Shompens are of Mongoloid stock. Some among them who are smaller are called Mawa Shompens. Authorities have recorded several attacks on the Mawa Shompens by the other majority Shompens in the past. These attacks, however, had come down in recent years.
Unlike the Shompens, the other tribe the Jarawas, Great Andamanese, Sentinelese and Onge are all of Negrito racial stock and dominate the Andaman group of islands. Which is why when sections of the media reported that the Jarawas were fine, it did not surprise anyone at Port Btair. The Jarawas live on the middle and north Andaman islands which were not as severely affected by the tsunami waves as the Nicobar group of islands. Officials here are still hopeful that the various tribes have survived because they, living in the interiors of the islands, are in possession of the knowledge of the weather and therefore were better prepared to deal with natural disasters. Officials point out that with tribal reserves being encroached upon at an alarming rate, they have more to fear from contact with the outside world.
In fact, a Supreme Court order of May 7, 2002, had asked the Andaman and Nicobar administration to evict the encroachers within three months. While the implementation of the order has been questioned by various quarters, it took a tsunami to renew interest in a people forgotten by time.
The armed forces have kept the operation to find the Shompens a secret. This is because the focus of the western media has been unremitting on the tribes. And with many of the islands still inaccessible and communication links yet to be restored, the armed forces cannot give any definite information. The search goes on.

: Andaman Map from Sanctuary Asia Volume XXIV, Issue No 2, April 2004

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