Despite coming in close contact with the mainlanders, Shompen stick to their customs and belief and are not keen to meet mainlanders
By Prasanta Paul
Concluding Part of the Shompen Tribe
The Shompen bury their dead. When a Shompen dies inside the family hut, the body is immediately taken out and placed on the ground. No hymns are recited and no alms are given on the occasion. When the Shompen lose a young member of the tribe, the lament is louder when compared to the loss of an elder.
After one dies, a wooden bier is prepared from a log of fresh wood. The body is kept on the bier and tied to it with cane or other fibres. The arms are placed on the sides and hands kept open. Before the body is taken from village, a group goes into the forest to catch a pig. Meanwhile, two persons carry the bier from the village to a place little distance away. The path-bearers leave the bier on the ground and return to the village.
Then, taking the freshly captured pig and all the implements of the dead, they go back to the bier. Before placing the body inside the grave, the pig is sacrificed. After untying the body from the bier, it is placed inside the grave over leaves and then covered by leaves. All the implements are put inside and the grave is filled with earth. Interestingly, the next day, Shompen leave the locality where the death has occurred, to settle down in another place.
Their economic activities include horticulture, hunting and fishing, collection of fruits and roots besides rearing of pigs. Since they still do not have access to modern gadgets, they simply use a pointed stick for digging and turning the earth. Recently however, the local administration has provided them with spades and other equipment.
The Shompen hunt in the surrounding forests or go fishing in the streams that flow through their habitats; they hunt and fish throughout the year and take dogs during their hunt. These help them locate and chase wild boar. If a pig is caught alive, it may be kept for rearing. During the rainy season, the food gathering activities are very less as the region experiences heavy rain and forests turn very slushy.
So, crafts like basketry and canoe-making are taken up. Basketry and weaving clothes are done by women, particularly aged women. During that period, they trade with local Nicobarese and the local administration helps them. They exchange canoes for loin cloths, cooking utensils and other necessities offered by the Nicobarese. They also trade honey, lemon and megapode eggs besides sea shells they collect.
These goods are brought by the headman and other Shompen members to the Assistant Commissioner’s Campbell Bay office and exchanged for sugar, rice, tobacco and some implements like dao and axe.
The headman never allows the band members to contact or meet outsiders, not even Shompens of other bands without his permission. Usually, they do not like contact with others. The greatest degree of external contact by the Shompens is with the Nicobarese since the latter live nearby and with whom they occasionally trade.
However, these external contacts have not caused any effective change among the Shompen except among those who live in the Galathea river basin. From time to time, they receive token gifts like cooking utensils, cloth, hand tools and tobacco leaves from the Andaman administration.
Formerly, the Shompen cooked in vessels made of tree bark, but now most of them have been provided with aluminum pots and pans. Naturally, their food habits too have been changing in the wake of contacts with outsiders. Recently, two instances of inter-community marriages were discovered in the Galathea river basin.
In the first case, a Shompen girl, adopted by a Nicobarese family living in Chingen village, married a Ranchi labourer. The two fell in love when the labourer began visiting the family for some work. In the second instance, a coastal Nicobarese boy wooed a Shompen girl for sometime before marrying her.
In a well-thought initiative, the Andaman administration was started a school for the Shompens; but unfortunately, there was little response from these semi-nomad tribals for several years as they are not very keen to mix with outsiders except for their requirement.
What's Your Reaction?
The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world