THE JARAWAS PEOPLE OF THE ANDAMAN ISLANDS
Dear Hereditary Chief Corrie,
After discovering your website and learning that the Pan-Tribal Confederacy you founded is the only inter-racial worldwide Indigenous representative body I realized with great interest that there can be worldwide solidarity between native people, between America and Asia, between America and Africa.
My outlook is not a static nor a conservative one as the diversity of peoples on Earth is a dynamic and complex process. The face of humanity has constantly evolved and we can hope it will go on evolving. However, maybe for the first time in human history, the speed at which only a few number of society models expand themselves jeopardises the diversity of peoples on Earth.
In a world dominated by concern for expansion and economic growth, a chess game is being held by the major economic powers to secure their resources supplies. This reference development model to which most (if not all) countries have turned to requires increasing amounts of energy, material supplies and ? increased protection to secure them.
Peoples whose cultural identity is not built on this model may simply be condemned to be wiped out. Indigenous communities strongly depending on their environment are particularly exposed to this threat since they do not fit in the strategic interests of larger entities: They may not consider their environment in term of economic yield and often have a very strong spiritual link with it.
I just wanted to mention to you the fate of the Jarawa people, living on the Andaman Islands. These islands are under Indian administration. Only 3 or 4 distinct groups still live today, numbering less than a thousand people.
The Jarawas have no direct link to any current population on the Asian continent and some scientists assume they could be the only descendants of the populations who migrated from Africa long long time ago to settle on the Asian continent. They would have then merged into other waves of incomers but some of them would have survived in the Andaman Islands without contact until now for as long as 40 000 years. If this is true, these people would be the common link between populations in Africa, Asia and the Americas. They will probably keep the secret of their genealogy; it is all I can hope for them.
One group lives on North Sentinel Island, their exact number is still unknown, probably around 100 individuals. No immigrants from the continent have settled on this island so far. However, local authorities encourage contacts with this population, putting it on the verge of an extinction process. Their traditionally aggressive behaviour to any foreign contact had saved them so far but isolated and unexplained friendly contacts have been reported.
On South and Middle Andaman Islands, which are larger islands with Indian settlers, 2 populations (around 300 people) have entered a process of acculturation through drastic changes in their environment. The Andaman trunk road crossing vast patches of rain forest essential to their food supply is the entry gate for loggers, poachers and diseases. Unscrupulous travel agencies also organize tours; begging and changing food habits are sadly today's reality for some of them. This process is a very fast one and has been intensified by the road access just in a few years.
Those bright people have managed to survive many catastrophes, including the recent tsunami in South Asia. Is it not the perfect illustration that their civilisation, social life and knowledge perfectly fit their environment? However, they can not fight diseases imported by settlers from the continent: The Indian population increases at a rate around 15% a year on these islands and this is no surprise that contacts, sometimes clashes with Jarawas are more and more frequent.
The Onge of Little Andaman (around 40 people) and the Great Andamanese (around 100 people) are two other groups which population is in constant decline and which original way of life and social structure have been seriously altered if not destroyed by the local administration. Today, they rely on social welfare and it is an obvious failure: This further step ahead in assimilation illustrates once again how fragile these populations are and how much they rely on an environment free from outside pressure. However, the lessons learned have not changed the concrete policy towards the Jarawas.
If actions for Jarawas are limited, at least two actions would relieve their fate: The closure of the recently opened Andaman trunk road across their reservation, opening that lead to their begging for food or clothes, poaching from new settlers and outbreaks of hepatitis and measles. This is the most urgent.
Second, a moratorium agreed by the local authorities of the Andaman Islands so that the population of North Sentinel Island is protected from intrusion and so called "friendly" contacts.
It is also necessary that travel agencies and responsible editors of travel books explain to travellers that they are directly responsible of genocide by approaching these populations. Last but not least, sensible Indian citizens try to educate settlers and put pressure on local authorities in order to protect these remarkable people, they need all our support.
with my best regards,