eBook & eJournal | Learn more about tribal communities on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

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The ancient tribal communities that lived here in the Andaman Islands […] have lived and flourished here for at least 40,000 years., but the end could well be round the corner. […]

It definitely began with the British and their policies, which have been kept up with clinical efficiency by modern, independent India [which] was already on course to becoming a colonizer itself. […]

In the late 1960s, an official plan of the Government of India to ‘colonize’ (and this was the term used) the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was firmly in place. The forests were ‘wastelands’ that needed to be tamed, settled and developed. […]

Tribal cultures the world over are intricately linked with the forests they live in. The story, or should wie call it the ‘history’ of modern civilization, is largely one of the taming and destroying the great forests of the world and the innumerable tribal communities that lived therein. […] Vices like alcoholism were introduced; the addiction is now used by the settlers to exploit resources from the forests.

Source: Pankaj Sekhsaria in Islands in Flux: The Andaman and Nicobar Story (Harper Litmus, 2017), pp. 4-7

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a chain of 572 islands of which a little more than 30 are inhabited. They constitute 0.2 per cent of India’s land mass but provide for 30 per cent of the country’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). […] The government aims to acquire 60 small and large passenger and cargo ships [and] buy luxury cruise ships for wealthier visitors, to replace the ageing, basic vessels that are available

Source: Rajat Arora, Economic Times, 26 September 2015
URL: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/infrastructure/modi-governments-rs-10000-crore-plan-to-transform-andaman-and-nicobar-islands/articleshow/49111067.cms
Date visited: 4 December 2020

2.1 Geographic and Geophysical Profile

Situated about 1,200 km from the Indian mainland, between 6° 45’ N to 13° 41’ N longitude, and 92° 12’ E and 93° 57’ E latitude, Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) are an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal, consisting of 306 named islands and 206 rocky outcrops endowed with outstanding natural beauty and ecological diversity. Of these islands, only 38 are inhabited.

Geologically the A&N Islands are the submerged southwards extensions of the ArakanYoma mountain range of Myanmar. The Islands have a total land area of 8,249 km2, of which the northern Andaman group constitutes 6,408 km2 and the southern Nicobars 1,841 km2. The two island groups are separated by the 160-km-wide 10° channel, and are geologically and ecologically quite distinct. The Andamans have bio-geographic affinities with Myanmar, while the Nicobars are more closely related to Indonesia. […]

The Andaman Island forests contain a mix of elements from the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia, and are recognized as a distinct eco-region in the WWF global list (ref: IM0101), with high endemism and distinctiveness. The WWF eco-region profile lists a total of 37 endemic or near- endemic terrestrial fauna species in the Islands. Other sources list 85 flora species as rare, endangered, and threatened. […]

2.5 Social Profile

The Islands have been home to indigenous tribal communities for over 20,000 years. The original inhabitants of the Andaman group of Islands are tribes of Negrito origin such as the Great Andamanese, the Jarawas, the Onges, and the Sentinelese. People of Mongloid origin occupy Nicobar and it hosts two distinct groups of tribal people, the Nicobarese and the Shompens. These indigenous groups exhibit varied livelihoods, preferences for social exclusivity, and cultural differences. The tribal population is affected by fluctuating populations, high incidence of malaria, hepatitis, and other diseases, loss of traditional livelihoods and way of life, influx of outsiders, etc. Table 2.6 depicts the trends in tribal population in ANI.

Source: Introduction to “Bulwark Against Falling off the Map: State Action Plan on Climate Change, Andaman and Nicobar Islands 2013”, Government of India, Supported by United Nations Development Programme (Draft – November 2013), pp. 11-12 & 17
URL: http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Andaman-and-Nicobar.pdf
Date visited: 21 March 2021

How much does biodiversity matter to climate change? The ecosystems of the land and ocean absorb around half our our planet warming emissions. But these are being destroyed by human activity. At the same time, climate change is a primary driver of the destruction of these habitats and biodiversity loss. If biodiversity is our strongest natural defence against climate change (as it’s been described), what’s stopping us from doing more to protect it? | For up-to-date reports listen to The Climate Question (BBC) | United Nations on climate change >>

“I would like to direct attention to the general approach when we encounter the ‘other’ – the question of our protocol, etiquette and attitude. In our eagerness to know we probably show a disregard to these civilities. We try to buy friendship for building up rapport; we try to intrude into others’ territory without being invited and carry presents that we perceive would be appreciated to assert our friendliness.” – Anthropologist R.K. Bhattacharya in “The Holistic Approach to Anthropology” >>

Dr. Guha, with his research colleagues from the Anthropological Survey, identified the areas, namely Andamans and the North-East, of the country that called for urgent investigation and research. This was done in the very early phase after founding the Survey.

Now let us try to read the mind of Dr. Guha by consulting his “Report of a Survey of Inhabitants of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands During 1948-49”, published in 1952 in the Bulletin of the Department of Anthropology (Government of India), 1:1, 1-7. I quote copiously:

The problem of the Aborigines of Andaman Islands … is not the same as that of the other … tribes of India. These people are some of the most ancient remnants of human race still surviving … The need among them is not so much the spread of education and social uplift as the arrest of decline in population which has been most alarming. … The hostile branch of the Andamanese tribes known as the Jarawa-Onge-Sentinelese group fortunately has been spared the fate of their more ‘friendly’ kinsmen. … Very little can be done now to save the Andamanese proper who have paid for their friendliness by being driven to the verge of extinction and it now is a question of time before they would completely disappear.

Source: R.K. Bhattacharya in “The Holistic Approach to Anthropology: B. S. Guha’s Vision of the Anthropological Survey of India” (Journal of the Anthropological Survey of India, 2012-2013), p. 368
URL: https://indianculture.gov.in/reports-proceedings/journal-anthropological-survey-india
Date accessed: 28 January 2020

Book Review by Ajay Saini: The Last Island: A Story of the Andamans and the Most Elusive Tribe in the World by Adam Goodheart

The Last Island endeavours to navigate the extensive history of the Andaman islanders, connecting their colonial past to contemporary times. However, it lacks rigour. The narrative often falters due to inadequate details and perspectives, causing confusion and distorted comprehension, especially for readers unfamiliar with the complex history of the Andamans.

Excerpts from the book review in Outlook India

The absence of proper citations makes the verification of the author’s claims difficult, diminishing the book’s credibility and impeding readers’ ability to engage with its contents critically.

The Last Island exposes Goodheart’s disregard for research ethics, raising serious concerns about researchers’ responsibility while conducting studies in sensitive and protected environments. The author’s deliberate criminal trespass into the Sentinelese tribal reserve by enticing a hesitant and economically disadvantaged local fisherman with significant monetary incentives is particularly disquieting, among others.

The Andaman Islanders thrived in complete isolation until the British colonised them. Goodheart delves into their history but barely learns anything from it.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, scores of thrill-seeking Europeans thronged the “Human Zoos” where “savages” (indigenes) of the world were exhibited. Goodheart’s “wild adventure” to the North Sentinel was fuelled by similar sentiments—the exhilaration of a human safari—that he wanted to narrate to his friends for decades. “Chau’s and my dreams were perhaps more similar than I would like to admit… Unlike him … my quest was not to shift the course of history, just to witness it,” he writes.

Goodheart was aware that trespassing into a protected reserve endangered a highly vulnerable Sentinelese people without providing him any opportunity to deepen his understanding of their society. Over two decades later, he perversely justifies his illegal action thus: “To seek such a moment of sublime experience … may be a foundational human desire. A pardonable sin.” […]

India’s “eyes-on, hands-off” policy respects the Sentinelese’s right to self-determination and no contact, thus guaranteeing them the right to land and to live freely according to their culture and without any discrimination. It aligns well with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) guidelines for the protection of indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact.

Contrastingly, The Last Island strips the Sentinelese of their agency, and confuses its readers. “Chau’s secular critics—all the well-meaning bloggers, tweeters, and activists who want the outside world to leave North Sentinel Island in eternal isolation—are just as delusional, just as much in thrall to their own mythology,” argues Goodheart.

Having migrated out of Africa some 70,000 years ago, the Andaman islanders thrived in complete isolation on these islands until the British colonised and ravaged them in the 19th century. The Sentinelese continue to hold their last bastion. Goodheart delves into the history of the Andaman islanders but barely learns anything from it.

(Juggernaut, 236 pages, Rs 699)

Source: “Book Review: Silencing The Sentinelese In Andaman’s Last Island” by Ajay Saini (Assistant Professor at IIT Delhi working with remote indigenous Communities), Outlook India, 23 February 2024

URL: https://www.outlookindia.com/books/book-review-silencing-the-sentinelese-in-andamans-last-island

Date Visited: 29 February 2024

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