Last week, members of an isolated Indian tribe armed with bows and arrows killed an American missionary who had visited their restricted island to allegedly try and convert them to Christianity.
The 26-year-old, John Allen Chau, was killed with bows and arrows by endangered tribesmen in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands after being illegally ferried to the island by fishermen, according to media reports.
The two endangered aboriginal Andaman tribes – the Jarawa and the Sentinelese – are hunter-gatherers, and it is reported that contact with the outside world would put them at risk of contracting diseases. They are often hostile to outsiders and have communicated through their actions that they would want to be left alone.
As such, authorities in India have barred people from visiting the endangered island or taking photographs of the inhabitants to the extent that the seven fishermen who aided the deceased to the island have been arrested.
According to the police, Chau had already made two or three other trips to the island since November 15 in an attempt to get into contact with the tribe though he always returned to his boat. On November 16, he told the fishermen that he would not come back from the island and asked them to return home only for his body to be found the next morning by the fishermen being dragged across a beach and buried in the sand.
Survival International, an organisation that works for the rights of tribal people, has been speaking about the tribe that has little contact with the rest of the world.
“The British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands decimated the tribes living there, wiping out thousands of tribespeople, and only a fraction of the original population now survives. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable,” Stephen Corry, the group’s director, said in a statement cited by Aljazeera.
Sophie Grig, a senior researcher with Survival International, said Chau had risked both his own safety and that of the tribe by attempting to get into contact with the people.
“This is one of the most vulnerable tribes on the planet,” Grig said. “He could be passing on diseases that could literally wipe them all out.”
Here’s what more you need to know about the endangered tribesmen of the Andaman Islands who made headlines in 2004 right after the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami which they survived.
The Andamanese people are referred to as the ‘Negritos’ that reside in India’s Andaman and the Nicobar Islands in the southeastern portion of the Bay of Bengal. The name ‘Negritos’ is derived from their dark skin tone and physique. They settled in their current location during the Last Glacial Maximum, approximately 26,000 years ago and lived in isolation up until the 18th century incorporating little to no contact with the outside world.
After mingling with other civilizations, most Andamanese died and 7,000 survived. Now it said that only 400 to 450 Andamanese people live today. They are made up of the Great Andamanese, Jarawas of the Great Andaman archipelago, the Jangil of Rutland Island, the Onge of Little Andaman and the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island.
The Andamanese are considered a scheduled tribe or belonging to a caste of disenfranchised Indians.
The Andamanese are comprised of the five large tribes mentioned above; the Great Andamanese on Strait Island are speculated to be 50 in number, the Jarawa of the Jarawas of the Great Andaman archipelago, the Jangil of Rutland Island, the Onge of Little Andaman, and the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island now residing in the West Coast and central parts of South and Middle Andaman Islands are 380 in number as of 2011, the Jangil or Rutland Jarawa of Rutland Island were extinct in 1921, the Onge of Little Andaman have 101 members as of 2011 and the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island is estimated to have 100 to 200 tribe members.
Theory suggests that during the Great Coastal Migration or the Southern Dispersal, populations along the southern coast of Asia, the Arabian Peninsula via Persia and India to Southeast Asia to Oceania crossed East Africa through the Bab-el-Mandeb straits 70,000 years ago.
Though Chaubey and Endicott (2013) disagree and say that the Andamanese people migrated from Africa due to the time frame, what else explains their physical features of dark skin, frizzy hair and short stature? One can venture to say their way of life and attributes can be compared to the Pygmy people.
Dental structure states that the structure the Andamanese people’s teeth showed that they were from Africa and South Asia. Further study concluded that dental morphology was similar to that of South Asians.
The cranial formation of the tribe indicates it is similar to that of Africans.
Originally, the Andamanese were hunter-gatherers hunting pigs and fish using bows, adzes – which are cutting tools similar to axes that date back to the stone age and wooden harpoons. They did not know how to generate fire, instead, they used preserved embers from carved out trees as a result of lightning strikes.
The Andamanese, having no permanent or temporary housing structure instead slept on mats or leaves. They also used leaves and hibiscus fiber to make clothing.
They have been documented to also use paint on their bodies.
Oko-pai-ad or tribal members thought to have super-natural powers assisted other members with healthcare using herbal medicine made by medicinal plants.
The Andamanese people speak Aka-Jeru, Ongan or Jarawa-Ongan and Sentinelese – which can be spoken by 50 individuals. Not much is known about the Sentinelese language because tribe members are completely cut off from the rest of the world.
During the British invasion of the southeastern regions of South Andaman from 1789 to 1793, the majority of the Andamanese people perished due to alcoholism, pneumonia, measles and influenza. In 1867 during what was dubbed the Andaman Islands Expedition, British colonialists avenged the death of sailors by the Andamanese by killing them off the Onge. By 1875, the tribe was close to extinction.
In a full-on attempt to obliterate the tribe, the British and Indian governments worked together to establish punitive codes that allowed them to impinge upon Andamanese territory. This exacerbated the dwindling population.
The Andamanese have no formal governance structure and make decisions using group consensus.
When visited by outsiders, the instinct of the Andamanese is to attack, in some cases, some have been killed. In 1996, attacks ceased when settlers took a Jarawa teenager named Enmei to the hospital to nurse his broken foot.
The Andamanese continue to keep strangers at arms-length so there is no current information on how they live their life presently.