Tuesday, 6 March 2018

INDIA: Jarawa People And Their Way Of Life

The Jarawas are an indigenous people of the Andaman Islands in India.

They live in parts of South Andaman and Middle Andaman Islands, and their present numbers are estimated at between 250–400 individuals.

They have largely shunned interaction with outsiders, and many particulars of their society, culture and traditions are poorly understood.

As far as their clothing is concerned, they use various kinds of ornaments made from forest products to adorn their body.

The Jarawas are recognised as an Adivasi group in India. Along with other indigenous Andamanese peoples, they have inhabited the islands for at least several thousand years, and most likely a great deal longer.

According to the Great Andamanese language, the term Jarawa means ‘stranger’. Their native tongue is also known as Jarawa, which belongs to the Ongan language family.

The Andaman Islands have been known to outsiders since antiquity; however, until quite recent times they were infrequently visited, and such contacts were predominantly sporadic and temporary.

The tribes of the Andaman Islands – the Jarawa, Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese – are believed to have lived in their Indian Ocean home for up to 55,000 years.

They are now vastly outnumbered by several hundred thousand Indians, who have settled on the islands in recent decades.

For the greater portion of their history their only significant contact has been with other Andamanese groups. Through many decades, the contact to the tribe has diminished quite significantly.
There is some indication that the Jarawa regarded the now-extinct Jangil tribe as a parent tribe from which they split centuries or millennia ago, even though the Jarawa outnumbered and eventually out-survived the Jangil.

The Jangil also called the Rutland Island Aka Bea were presumed extinct by 1931.

The Jarawa are a designated Scheduled Tribe in India.

They are simple people who bank on nature for survival, engaging themselves in various rituals and ceremonies, with song and dance being an integral part of most festivals.

Marriages take place among the adolescents and according to their custom a widow or widower can remarry. The average height of men is around 150 cm, whereas the women are about 140 cm tall.

At present, their average life expectancy has dropped to 60 to 65 years from the previous range of 80 to 90 years.

Before the 19th century, the Jarawa homelands were located in the southeast part of South Andaman Island and nearby islets.

With the establishment of the initial British settlement, these are suspected to have been largely depopulated by disease shortly after 1789.

The Great Andamanese tribes were similarly depopulated by the introduction of alcohol and opium, leaving open the western areas which the Jarawa gradually made their new homeland.

The spreading of opium and alcohol was to some extent sponsored by the colonial authorities in order to depopulate the Jarawa.

The immigration of mainland Indian and Karen (Burmese) settlers, beginning about two centuries ago, accelerated this process.

Prior to their initiating contact with settled populations in 1997, the Jarawa were noted for vigorously maintaining their independence and distance from external groups, actively discouraging most incursions and attempts at contact.

Since 1998, they have been in increasing contact with the outside world and have increasingly been the initiators of such contact.

All contact, especially with tourists, remains extremely dangerous to the Jarawa due to the risk of disease. Of the remaining Andamanese peoples.

Only the Sentinelese have been able to maintain a more isolated situation, and their society and traditions persist with little variance from their practices they observed before the first significant contacts were made.

Today the Jarawa are in regular contact with the outside world through settlements on the fringes of their Reserve, through daily contact with outsiders along the Andaman Trunk Road and at jetties, marketplaces and hospitals near the road.

And at settlements near the reserve, with some children even showing up at mainstream schools and asking to be educated along with settler children.

The Jarawas are hostile towards outsiders and are sometimes accessible to Indian linguists.

The Jarawas are the only remaining Negrito remnants of the Andaman Islands out of four.

Other than having a history as traditional hunter-forager-fishermen, they also had reputations as warriors and uncompromising defenders of their territory.

The Jarawas lived through British encroachment in the 19th century, as well as Japanese occupation later on.]
Jarawas currently have a population of 270 remaining. Their primary threat is a highway, Andaman Trunk Road, running through their territory and reserve of 1,028 square kilometers of dense evergreen forests.

As the Jarawas are a nomadic tribe, they hunt endemic wild pigs, monitor lizards and other quarry with bows and arrows. They would keep no dogs to help hunting, until recently to become more similar to the Onges and Andamanese.

Since this is an island tribe, food sources in the ocean are highly important to them. Men would fish with bows and arrows in shallow water. Women would catch fish with baskets.

Mollusks, dugongs and turtles are a major part of the Jarawa diet. Besides meat and seafood, Jarawas love to collect fruit, tubers and honey from the forest.

In order to get the honey from the bees, they would use a plant extract to calm the bees.

Both Jarawa men and women collect wild honey from lofty trees. During the honey collection the members of the group will sing songs to express their delight.

The honey-collector will chew the sap of leaves of a bee-repellant plant, such as Ooyekwalin, which they will then spray with their mouths at the bees to keep them away.

Once the bees have gone the Jarawa can cut the bee’s nest, which they will put in a wooden bucket on their back. The Jarawa always bathe after consuming honey.

A study of their nutrition and health found their ‘nutritional status’ was ‘optimal’. They have detailed knowledge of more than 150 plant and 350 animal species.

The Jarawa bow, made of chuiood is also known as aao in their own language. The arrow is called patho. The wooden head of the arrow is made of areca wood.

To make the iron head arrow, called aetaho in their language, they use iron and areca wood or babmo. Their chest guard in order to go hunting or for any raids is called kekad.

The biggest threat to the Jarawa in recent years came from the building of the Great Andaman Trunk Road through their newer western forest homeland in the 1970s.

In late 1997, some Jarawa started coming out of their forest to visit nearby settlements for the first time.

Within months a serious measles epidemic broke out. In 2006 the Jarawa suffered another outbreak of measles. No deaths were reported.

In 1998, a few Jarawa started to emerge from their forest for the first time without their bows and arrows to visit nearby towns and settlements.

In 1990 the local authorities revealed their long-term master plan to settle the Jarawa in two villages with an economy based on fishery, suggesting that hunting and gathering could be their sports.

The plan was so prescriptive it even detailed what style of clothes the Jarawa should wear.

Forced settlement had been fatal for other tribes in the Andaman Islands, just as it has been for most newly-contacted tribal peoples worldwide.

The impact of the highway, in addition to widespread encroachment, poaching and commercial exploitation of Jarawa lands, caused a lawsuit to be filed with the Calcutta High Court, which has jurisdiction over the islands.

The case escalated to the Supreme Court of India as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, the Bombay Natural History Society and Pune-based Kalpavriksh joined in the petition, resulting in a landmark High Court judgment in 2001.

This resulted in Court directing the administration to take steps to protect the Jarawa from encroachment and contact, as well as preemptively ruling out any program that involved relocating the Jarawa to a new reservation.

Planned extensions of the highway were also prohibited by the court.

However, the Light of Andamans editorialised that the changes to the Jarawa were likely irreversible and should have been assessed more thoroughly before the road was built.
The road that cuts through their territory brings thousands of outsiders, including tourists, into their land. The tourists treat the Jarawa like animas in a safari park.

A major problem is the volume of sightseeing tours that are operated by private companies, where tourists view, photograph or otherwise attempt interactions with Jarawas, who are often begging by the highway.

They remain vulnerable to outside diseases to which they have little or no immunity. In 1999 and 2006, the Jarawa suffered outbreaks of measles, a disease that has wiped out many tribes worldwide following contact with outsiders. An epidemic could devastate the tribe.

Jarawa women have been sexually abused by poachers, settlers, bus drivers and others.

The girls say, that the outside boys pressure them to do a lot. They pressure them with their hands and fingernails, when the girls get angry. They chase them under the influence of alcohol.

They have sex with the girls. They drink alcohol in the girls’ house. They sleep in the Jarawa’s house. They smoke marijuana and then chase the girls.

There is pressure from some, including the island’s MP, to force the Jarawa to integrate into the mainstream of Indian society.

The fate of the Great Andamanese and Onge peoples serves as a vivid warning of what may happen to the Jarawa unless their rights to control who comes onto their land and to make their own decisions about their ways of life are recognized.

These are illegal under Indian law, and in March 2008, the Tourism Department of the Andaman and Nicobar administration issued a fresh warning to tour operators.

That attempting contact with Jarawas, photographing them, stopping vehicles while transiting through their land or offering them rides were prohibited under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956 and would be prosecuted under a strict interpretation of the statute.

It has been alleged, however, that these rules are openly being flouted with over 500 tourists being taken to view Jarawas daily by private tour operators.

This is while technically being shown as transiting to legitimate destinations and resulting in continuing daily interaction between the Jarawa and day tourists inside the reserve area.

In 2006, the Indian travel company Barefoot had established a resort 3 km distant from the Jarawa reserve.

The development was the subject of a recent court case brought by a small section of Andaman authorities who wanted to stop the resort, and appealed against a Calcutta High Court ruling allowing it to continue. Barefoot won that case.

Some Indian tourism companies bring tourists close to their secluded areas where the natives are tossed food from the caravans.

In 2012, a video shot by a tourist showed women encouraged to dance by an off-camera policeman.

At present, there are numerous private operators who take tourists to the reserve area to interact with the tribe.

Tourists view, take photographs and try to mingle with them, which is illegal under the Indian Law, but, rules are being flouted almost daily.

People traveling to the protected area hurl food from their vehicles, while sometimes, tourists even exploit the Jarawa women by asking them to dance and taking photographs.

Cases of sexual abuse also unfolded before the administration, which prompted them to take action. In various interviews, the tribal people have explicitly stated that their women are sexually exploited by outsiders.

A documentary titled “Organic Jarawa” on the life of Jarawa people was made by French filmmakers Alexandre Dereims and Claire Beilvert, who were booked for it under the law of the land, as they went to the reserve area to shoot without permission. The Indian police are investigating the matter.

On 21 January 2013 a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and H.L. Gokhale passed an interim order banning the tourists from taking trunk road passing through Jarawa area.

As a response to this interim order, a petition was filed on behalf of local inhabitants which stated that the Andaman Trunk Road is a very vital road and connects more than 350 villages.

The Supreme Court therefore, on 5 March 2013 reversed its interim order, allowing the road to be fully re-opened, but with vehicles only being allowed to travel in large convoys four times a day.

A light skinned, few months old baby was found dead in the Jarawa reserve area which led the police to investigate.

Because of the complexion, which is quite unusual for the tribal people, the baby was believed to have been fathered by an outsider, and it was thought that this might have prompted them to carry out a ritual killing.

But, it was believed that outside hand was involved, leading to the arrest of two non-tribal men.

Human safaris to the Jarawa

Although India’s Supreme Court in 2002 ordered that the highway through the Jarawa’s reserve should be closed, it remains open – and tourists use it for ‘human safaris’ to the Jarawa.

Poachers enter the Jarawa’s forest and steal the animals the tribe rely on for their survival. They have also introduced alcohol and marijuana and are known to sexually abuse Jarawa women.

In 1999 and 2006, the Jarawa suffered outbreaks of measles – a disease that has wiped out many tribes worldwide following contact with outsiders.

In India, ‘mainstreaming’ refers to the policy of pushing a tribe to join the country’s dominant society. It has a devastating effect on tribal peoples.

It strips them of their self-sufficiency and sense of identity, and leaves them struggling at the very margins of society. Rates of disease, depression, addiction and suicide within the tribal community almost inevitably soar.

In 2010 the Andaman Islands’ member of parliament called for ‘quick and drastic steps be taken to bring the Jarawa up to the basic mainstream characteristics’ and for children to be sent to residential schools in order to ‘wean’ the children away from the tribe.

He described the Jarawa as being ‘in a primitive stage of development’ and ‘stuck in time somewhere between the stone and iron age’.

Influential figures in India, including government ministers, have often called for the Jarawa to be assimilated, believing that they are ‘backward’ or ‘primitive’.

This request, however, has not come from the Jarawa, who show no sign of wanting to leave their life in the forest.

Such an attitude can stem from racist disdain or from a genuine concern for the tribe’s welfare; either way it is always based on a misunderstanding of both the Jarawa’s current excellent quality of life, and the miserable experiences of tribal people who have been forcibly assimilated.

Since 2004, the Indian government’s policy towards the Jarawa has been very positive: the general principle is that the tribe themselves should control their future, with minimal intervention from the state.

However, there are still many who are clamoring for this to change.

Survival International advocates neither isolation nor integration, believing – as with all tribal peoples – that they themselves are best placed to determine what, if any, changes they wish to make to their lives.

Crucial to having the time and space to make these decisions is that their land is properly protected from outside incursions.

The principal threat to the Jarawa’s existence comes from encroachment onto their land, which was sparked by the building of a highway through their forest in the 1970s.

The Andaman Trunk Road (ATR) brings outsiders into the heart of their territory.

The ATR has also encouraged ‘human safaris’, where tour operators drive tourists along the road in the hope of ‘spotting’ members of the tribe.

Illegal hunting, fishing and gathering, from both local and foreign poachers, remains a serious threat to the Jarawa’s survival.

The theft of the food they rely on risks robbing them of their self sufficiency and driving the tribe to extinction.

Since 1993 Survival has been lobbying the Indian government to close the Andaman Trunk Road, believing that only the Jarawa should decide if, when and where outsiders traverse their land.

In 2002, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the closure of the road, yet it still remains open.

In 2013, following a campaign from Survival and local organization ‘Search’ to ban ‘human safaris’, the Supreme Court banned tourists from travelling along the ATR for seven weeks.

After the Andaman Authorities changed their own rules in order to allow the human safaris to continue, the Supreme Court had no choice but to reverse the ban.

In October 2017, the Andaman Authorities opened the long-awaited alternative sea route to Baratang. This sea route was supposed to stop the human safaris.

But despite the authorities’ commitment to ensuring all tourists would have to use the sea route, very few currently do, and the market in human safaris along the road is flourishing.

Survival has been calling for the Andaman authorities to clamp down on poaching and to ensure that those arrested are prosecuted.

Although in recent years many poachers have been arrested, none have been been sentenced by the courts, despite the offence carrying a prison term of up to seven years.

Tourism Observer
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