Jarawas – The Indigenous Tribesmen of Andaman

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The Andaman Islands are home to quite a few aboriginal tribes for centuries. Sentinelese, Onges, Jarawas, and the Great Andamanese are some of the tribes which have colonized this place almost two millennia ago. Here, we are going to talk about the Jarawa people, who among these, are one of the most lively and close to mainstream tribes of Andaman.

The Origin

To be specific, it was the Jangil tribe probably of Afro-Asian origin from which the Jarawas have descended. These people are considered to be one of the successful surviving tribes to relocate out of Africa. Similarities in physique with people of South Asia are also notable. Rhetorical and ethnic dissimilarities unlike other tribes like those of the Great Andamanese, who didn’t survive over the years, managed to establish their morale and significance.

The conspicuous backwardness of the Jarawas in a time when the world saw the rapid rejuvenation of the modern civilizations indicates that it has been a significant period of time since they were completely isolated from the entire world. Maybe, this is the reason they have been successful in preventing others from exploiting their history, tradition, and culture despite a modernization rush. These people are mainly inhabitants of the Western coast of the Middle as well as the Southern Andaman Islands.

Tradition, Culture, and Occupation

The traditional chief occupation of the Jarawa tribesmen is hunting, gathering, and fishing. They are excellent warriors with bows and arrows and hold the massive reputation of valiantly defending their territory over the ages. The bows are made from chuiood wood (Sageraea elliptica), which is known as Aao in its own language. The arrow is called Patho. The wooden head of the arrow is made of Areca wood.

While wandering through the jungles for hunting or on raids, they wear a chest guard called Kekad. With the help of all these the men hunt down wild pigs, monitor lizards, turtles. They also look for thin coral-fringed reefs for crabs and fish, including striped catfish-eel and the toothed pony fish. The women catch fish with baskets. They also gather fruits, wild roots, tubers, and honey. In order to get honey from bees, they use a plant extract to calm the bees.

Their ancient folk songs revolve around their material culture and hunting, fishing, and gathering activities. They follow the traditional religion. Nowadays, with substantial coexistence with modern civilization, they have started taming dogs and keeping them as pets to assist them in hunting.

Diet and Fooding

Although the Jarawas preferably consume raw food, sometimes they prepare food by roasting, baking, and boiling. The tribal diet includes mollusks, dugongs, and turtles which are a major part of the Jarawa diet besides meat and seafood. As they depend on the earthbound and aquatic resources on food, if one resource gets shortened, they appendage it with some other, and for this fact, their dieting habits find change sometimes.

The Jarawa’s call their hut or settlement Chadda. Their language is very difficult for others to understand or learn. It consists of a nine-vowel character system and twenty-six consonants at the phonemic level. Jarawa Tribe’s physical appearance is very strong, however, they had ill habits of taking more Opium and more quantity of Alcohol.

The Jarawa of both sexes decorates their body and face with clay. They naturally don’t like to cover up their bodies so the government and social workers started distributing the clothes and tried to bring them into the mainstream.

The traditional fashion that they adorned was made of all kinds of fabrics or woolen thread, known as Kangapo. The threads are ribboned to form ornaments which can be segregated into two different types- temporary and permanent. The temporary ornaments are made mostly from flowers, fruits, and tender seasonal leaves and name them after the plants from which the materials are connected. The permanent ones are composed of shells, cotton threads, or wool.

Body painting and decoration are an inherent part of their daily life. Wavy, criss-cross, or various straight geometric patterns can be noticed. These designs are made in freehand using nails, fingertips, shells, or wooden stencils known as Thomtang.

Resistance and Contact with Outsiders

With the onset of British conquest over India, which ultimately led to lay their hands over these islets of southern Asia, the Jarawa tribe saw a prompt depopulation. The bow and arrows stood nothing in front of guns and firepower.

When settlers from Eastern Bengal and Burma reached here to look for a new settlement and start a new life, the Jarawas turned hostile. Although they can’t be blamed for their act, since it was the settlers only who occupied their lands and had started taking over their resources. There are still tales of how the Jarawas used to run away on seeing the settlers. Although later, they counter-attacked with bows and arrows which frightened the settlers.

When the administration and concerned authorities took hold of the situation, the tension loosened gradually. They were offered fruits, resources and they depended on the settlers for their day-to-day needs, some were attended to treat their injuries. The hostility between the two communities dropped. The Jarawas started visiting the settler villages to accept food.

Separate buffer zones were created later. The Indian Government supported them with monthly allowances these days and also receive wages for taking care of citrus fruit plantations. From 1997 onwards, Jarawas began to initiate contact with local populations readily. They met with outsiders, especially with tourists, though they remained extremely prone to the risk of diseases. In late 1997, a serious measles epidemic broke out. In 1999 and 2006 the Jarawas suffered another outbreak of measles but no deaths were reported.

In spite of these risks, the Jarawas increasingly played an active role, learning more about the settled population, started taking up opportunities to trade more frequently, and making themselves aware of their own special status as protected people. In the process, Jarawas learned other languages, sought medical aid, and began to ask tourists for money if they wanted to take photos with them.

The ATR controversy and life after

One of the greatest challenges that the Jarawas faced till now is definitely the menace caused when the Government built the Great Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) in 1970, which rolled down through their territories in the western forests. This caused to file a lawsuit in the High court of Kolkata. The Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology and Bombay Natural History Society advocate was in favor of the Jarawa people. Ultimately, in 2001 the court delivered judgment and ordered the administration to take necessary steps to protect the Jarawa from exploitation.

In 2004, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs framed a policy for the Jarawas. The policy is a table of various measures to be undertaken by the administration of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Protecting the natural habitat and cultural identity of the Jarawas, monitoring their health, and regulating traffic on the Andaman Trunk Road are integral parts of these policies. It is true that the Jarawas have developed barter relationships with the exploitative elements living outside the tribal reserve. The Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) is stimulating the tribe on this issue. The administration is also taking penal action against the poachers.

When the Jarawas first became friendly post-1995 period, their population was at 235. Today, the figure is around 400. In the Jarawa Tribal Reserve area, entry of unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.

Today, several Jarawa families possess a good relationship with the outside world. They are found at jetties, marketplaces, and hospitals near the settlement reserve. Their children are going to school and getting educated side by side with the settler children. They also contribute to Andaman tourism.

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