- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

PORT BLAIR, India — India’s dwindling aboriginal population in the remote Andaman and Nicobar islands is safe because most lived in jungles, far away from the coast hit by a devastating tsunami, a coast guard official said yesterday.

Experts had feared that some Stone Age tribal people, who have been living on the far-flung archipelago for thousands of years, could be on the verge of extinction after the killer waves that have killed more than 117,000 people across Asia and Africa.

“There have been several media reports talking about a threat to the aborigines, indigenous people and tribals of the islands,” said Vice Adm. Arun Kumar Singh, director general of the coast guard, which is involved in rescue operations.

“I have personally verified the extent of this claim, and let me tell you that it is absolutely rubbish.”


The Andaman and Nicobar group is a cluster of more than 550 islands, of which about three dozen are inhabited.

The island chain is home to about six tribes of Mongoloid and Negrito origin. Many of the indigenous people are seminomadic and subsist on hunting with spears, bows and arrows as well as fishing and gathering fruit and roots. They still cover themselves with tree bark or leaves.

Adm. Singh said the Nicobarese, the largest tribal group that lives on Car Nicobar and adjoining islands, bore the brunt of the waves, but the exact death toll was not known.

Coast guard surveys showed that the rest of the tribes such as the Shompen, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese had escaped, either because they lived in the jungles far from the coast or because their islands were barely touched by the waves.

“In the Middle Andaman, the Jarawa tribes are there, and there has not been a single report of casualty. The Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island, which some reports say have been completely wiped out, are all very much there,” Adm. Singh said.

More than 13,000 people are dead or feared dead in India from the tsunami, but rescuers are still struggling to assess the toll in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

Officials said more than 6,000 people were feared dead in the island chain, which is closer to Burma and Indonesia than the Indian mainland and is home to more than 350,000 people.

About 30,000 of the islands’ total population is tribal, the majority Nicobarese.

The rest are smaller groups. Some such as the Great Andamanese are down to about 30 people, while others such as the Shompen number 200 to 250.

The number of the Onge, one of the most primitive tribes, has fallen in past decades to about 100. There are about 200 Sentinelese, probably one of the world’s only surviving Paleolithic people, who are generally hostile to outsiders.

“Our helicopter pilot who flew over the island told me that he has seen several groups of Sentinelese on the beach and that when he dropped food packets they threw stones at the helicopter.”

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