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Photo: Indian Coastguard via Survival.
A Sentinelese tribesman on India's Andaman Islands. Photo: Indian Coastguard via Survival.
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  • A Jarawa woman and boy by the side of the Andaman Trunk Road. Photo: © Salomé / Survival.
    A Jarawa woman and boy by the side of the Andaman Trunk Road. Photo: © Salomé / Survival.

Illegal fishermen endanger world's most isolated tribe

The Ecologist

20th November 2014

The last completely isolated tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal is at risk from illegal fishing, with Burmese boats entering their waters and fishermen landing on their island home. But they had better watch out - two intruders were shot dead with arrows in 2006.

Due to their isolation the Sentinelese of India's Andaman Islands are the most vulnerable society on the planet. They face increasing threats - of which illegal fishermen targeting their waters are latest.

Campaigners fear that illegal fishermen are targeting the waters around the island home of the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe on India's Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal.

Seven men identified as Burmese fishermen were apprehended by the Indian Coast Guard near the 72 square kilometre North Sentinel Island earlier this month. Worryingly, one man was reportedly found on the island itself, in close proximity to the uncontacted tribespeople.

The fishermen were also putting themselves at risk. In 2006 two who landed on the island were shot with arrows and killed by Sentinelese tribesmen.

Due to their isolation the Sentinelese of India's Andaman Islands are the most vulnerable society on the planet, says Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples' rights.

Believed to number between 50 and 400, they face increasing threats from the outside world - of which illegal fishermen targeting their waters are latest.

At risk from diseases to which they lack immunity

The Sentinelese reject any contact with outsiders. Due to their complete isolation, they are likely to have no immunity to common diseases such as flu and measles and the chances of them being wiped out by an epidemic are very high.

Survival has welcomed the authorities' swift action in apprehending the illegal fishermen around North Sentinel and urges them to remain vigilant.

It also calls for an end to the daily intrusions by tourists and poachers into the forest of the neighboring Jarawa tribe - who inhabit islands neighboring the Sentinelese - as a matter of urgency.

The Jarawa are forced to endure 'human safaris' - hundreds of tourists passing through their forest on a daily basis in the hope of spotting a member of the tribe - as well as poachers stealing their game.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Jarawa women are being sexually abused by poachers who lure them with alcohol and marijuana.

A 55,000 year heritage endangered

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. Today, approximately 400 members of the nomadic Jarawa tribe live in groups of 40-50 people in chaddhas - as they call their homes.

Like most tribal peoples who live self-sufficiently on their ancestral lands, the Jarawa continue to thrive, and their numbers are steadily growing. They hunt pig and turtle and fish with bows and arrows in the coral-fringed reefs for crabs and fish, including striped catfish-eel and the toothed pony fish. They also gather fruits, wild roots, tubers and 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. As Anvita Abbi, Professor of linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, observed: "The Jarawa of the Andaman Islands enjoy a time of opulence. Their forests give them more than they need."

The Sentinelese are now the last group of Andaman islanders to live a wholly independent and traditional life, surviving purely by hunting, fishing and gathering. Satellite images (see photo) provide no indication that they practice farming, even on a small scale.

Protection must be increased

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said: "The Great Andamanese tribes of India's Andaman Islands were decimated by disease when the British colonized the islands in the 1800s.

"The most recent to be pushed into extinction was the Bo tribe, whose last member died only four years ago. The only way the Andamanese authorities can prevent the annihilation of another tribe is to ensure North Sentinel Island is protected from outsiders."

 


 

Principal source: Survival International.

 

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