history

The Jarawa

The Jarawa are about 400 people who live in villages in 300 square miles of forest set aside for them on South Andaman Island in the Indian Ocean, closer to Burma and Malaysia than to India, but governed by India. They are described in the New York Times (13 Mar '16) "as the last remnant of a Paleolithic-era civilization."

Background from Wikipedia:

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 decimated 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 Jarawa name is said to mean "people of the earth." The Times writes that until 1998 the Jarawa

...lived in complete cultural isolation, shooting outsiders with steel-tipped arrows if they came too near. After the tribe made peace with its neighbors, India took steps to minimize contact between the Jarawas and the world that surrounds them.

Recently a Jarawa woman gave birth to a "mixed race" infant. (The Jarawa are black and short enough to be called pygmies.) The tribe is known to have committed ritual killings of infants born to widows or – much rarer – fathered by outsiders. A government physician, Dr Ratan Chandra Kar, has described a Jarawa tradition with newborns breast-fed by the tribe's lactating women before being strangled by one of the tribal elders, the purpose: maintaining "the so-called purity and sanctity of the society." According to the Times, Dr Kar says that he is aware of at least seven such cases in his 12-year tenure. He writes in his book that he was haunted by the faces of the children but that he was "never ready to interfere in the customs and rituals of the tribe."

Writes the Times:

A man slipped into the mother's hut and took the baby from her side before she awoke ... witnesses later found the baby's body on the sand, drowned.

A government inspector asked a tribal elder to lead him to the child's body. The man said that the body had been carried into the forest and that according to tradition it should be left for months until its dried bones would be retrieved. He said the infant had joined his ancestors in another place. "If I give the body to you," he said, "the world will start shaking, and we will all die."

The Times writes of "no pressure from members of the Jarawa tribe, who are, by and large, sympathetic to the man accused of killing the child."

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.