Can you imagine a people leading a Stone Age
existence today? In our modern world, with its cars
and computers and gadgetry it seems improbable, right?
But such people do exist. Out in the Andaman Islands we have
tribals who wear no clothes, who hunt with bows and arrows, and
who live the nomadic hunter-gatherer existence our ancestors once did.
These people are Indian citizens like you and me, but unlike for us, citizenship means little to them. For them, their home is the forest. What the forest has taught them is all they know. Its bounty and its security is all they seek and want.
Their forests are precious to them and they fiercely protect them.
They are hostile to those who enter and sometimes kill to protect
the only home they know.
On the Andaman Islands there were once several tribes that lived simple hunter-gatherer lives. Now most are gone. Of the tribes that survive, only two – the Jarawa and the Sentinelese – live deep in the forest and remain hostile to those who dare enter their territory. This story is about one of these tribes – the Jarawa.
I have always admired the Jarawa for their resilience and their ability to survive against all odds. First it was the British who hunted them; then during the occupation of the Andaman Islands in the Second World War, the Japanese waged a brutal war against them. Now, we the ‘civilized’ Indians are pressing in on their forests from all sides.
Yet, the Jarawa continue to thrive. But it isn’t only their survival capabilities that impress me. What I admire even more is the way they live, particularly the simplicity of their existence. Their forests, like forests anywhere in the world, are rich with natural resources. The Jarawa seek their food and shelter from the forest. Unlike us who always crave for more, they ask for little else. In return for the bounty the forests supply them, the Jarawa protect them, ensuring their health and survival. It is this that we, the so-called educated and civilized people, have to learn from the simple, uneducated Jarawa – the one great lesson they can teach us – the ability to live in harmony with nature.
The Jarawa forests are off limits to all visitors. This is as much for our protection as it is for them. I was one of the lucky ones allowed in…
If it were your mission to log the remotest outposts of India, then
Barren Island would surely qualify in your list. The island is a tiny
speck in the vastness of the Andaman Sea, probably the most distant
of all Indian territories from the mainland. I had to wait for weeks
to find a boat to take me to there, but finally I made it.
The volcano on the island was hissing and steaming when I set foot on its lonely shore. There was something going on beneath Barrens cone. Magma was sloshing and churning, seeking to blast itself out from the confines of the volcanos crater. I could feel it. When I stood on the crater I knew it in my bones that there was a force of immense power beneath my feet.
A few months after I visited a powerful earthquake struck the region. The magnitude of the earthquake was such that it generated a tsunami that killed a 100,000 people. Barren Island sits squarely on top of the fault line that triggered the earthquake. The killer Tsunami of December 2004 not only spread havoc and death across South Asia, but it also set Barren Island alight, blasting a hole through its crater and hurling lava and smoke into the sky. The volcano on Barren went live again.
GEOGRAPHY of Andaman
Geology indicates that the Andaman Islands were once connected by a land bridge to the Burmese mainland. This explains how a black Negrito people came to live on the islands. It is believed that during the time the land bridge existed Burma was settled by a black Negrito race. Using the land bridge many of the Negrito people crossed over to the islands. But then subsidence took place and the land bridge sank, stranding the black race on the islands forever.
Geographically speaking the islands are far closer to Burma and Thailand than to India. The Andaman Sea lapping the island coastline washes also against the shores of Burma and Thailand. Yet, the islands belong to India. This is because the British used the islands to imprison Indian freedom fighters. When the British departed our country in 1947, beside its original black settlers, the ones who stayed behind on the islands were mostly Indian. So the Andaman Islands came to belong to India.
Geologically speaking, the distant islands of Barren and Narcondum are of volcanic origin. They are not part of the Andaman chain. The volcano on Narcondum is long dead. The one on Barren Island is live and smoking.