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Jarawas – To live And Let Live

Jarawas – To live And Let Live

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Jawara woman of Andaman

In the second part of his article the author portrays a rare picture of the Jarawas – one of the six rare tribes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands

The Jarawas who belong to Negrito stock, are short statured, have dark black skin, frizzy and woolly hair; they are well built but not fat.

Jarawas prefer to remain almost nude, men wearing a folded bark chest guard and women a leaf waist girdle. Both men and women love to wear leaf ornaments round the head and arms.

They eat both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food which they collect from the forest and sea. They hunt wild boars, big monitor lizards, crab, sea fish and turtle, eggs and molluscs like trouchus, turbo and bivalves.

Jarawas relish honey; they either boil or roast meat, but fish and molluscs are all boiled. They neither add salt nor sugar to the food. They are completely unaware of alcohol or narcotics.

Jarawas have territorially based divisions. Even though their number is not exactly known, two major territorial divisions exist—one in the west coast forests of the South Andamans while the other in the west coast forest of the Middle Andamans.

They move within these areas in small groups to hunt and gather food. Jarawas, it has been found, practice adult marriage and monogamy. No couple appears to look below twenty and neither male or female partners were found sharing food with others.

Jarawa women seem to enjoy both respect and freedom. They gather roots and tubers and make leaf ornaments along with men. They are also found to fish in shallow waters and take pride in exhibiting their catch and belongings in their huts.

Importantly, since Jarawas move within their territories in small groups for hunting and gathering, they do not allow any non-Jarawa to enter their territory and the local group exercises its control over the territory.

Jarawas paint their bodies with white clay which they call oado. The clay, mixed with water, is applied to the body with fingers or a small stick or a palm leaf stencil. Varied and intricate designs are found to be etched on bodies.

Interestingly, they often collect the coloured nylon strings or tattered nets that are thrown into the sea and washed ashore. With these strings and nets, they used to decorate wooden buckets, cane baskets and hand-craft small net bags!

Jarawas have a peculiar skill in making shell necklaces, head and arm bands, bark sheaths, baskets, ropes, bows and arrows besides spears with iron heads.

It has been a subject of great research among the anthropologists as to how Jarawas and other tribes of the archipelago have learnt the making and use of iron.

Contrary to popular belief that Jarawas are hostile to non-Jarawas, there have been instances to support the fact that they are not naturally hostile.

In 1788, when the Andamans were surveyed and the first settlement at Port Blair was established by the British East India Company, Jarawas occupied a part of the east coast in South Andamans.

But they were quite friendly to the British, unlike their neighbours the Great Andamanese. Even Lt Colebrooke was reported to have mastered some Jarawa words as a result of his contact with them.


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The first settlement at Port Blair was abolished in 1794 and a second settlement built in 1858. The tribes in South Andamans including the Jarawas were naturally pushed from the eastern region of the island towards the southwestern region.

A new threat emerged thereafter for them. Shortly after the second establishment, the British began to woo the Great Andamanese, resulting in a pressure on the Jarawas to follow suit.

But they declined to succumb and for more than a century, they remained isolated and extremely hostile to the external world. They also attacked the settlement in 1872, having been provoked and subsequently, the British continued to initiate punitive action on them till late 1940s.

Ironically, it never occurred to the British administration in India then, that Jarawas belong to the category of stone age civilization and must be protected from all sorts of persecution.

Worse, the same tradition continued after India gained independence in 1947, with the new settlers beginning to exert pressure on the Jarawas. It resulted in frequent skirmishes, killings, property damage and kidnapping.

However, better sense began to prevail from around 1974 onwards with the central government deciding to act firm and establish fresh contact with Jarawa community.

A series of visits were undertaken in subsequent years by the top officials of Anthropological Survey of India(ASI) and local experts, which resulted in much mellowed attitude of Jarawas towards the outside world and they began responding positively to the gestures of contact teams.

Now, apart from a settlement of Jarawas in Port Blair, the administration has imposed strict restrictions around their settlement in the islands of South Andamans so that this rare tribe does not get erased from earth due to increased interference of the modern civilized society.

(To Be Continued)

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