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Arrows signal aboriginals survived waves
By Ravi Shankar (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-05 01:02

When members of an endangered Stone Age community in a tsunami-affected area fired arrows at Indian reconnaissance coastguard helicopters on Tuesday, anthropologists around the world presumably cheered.

It was confirmation that Sentinelese aborigines, residents of North Sentinel Island in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago to the east of the Indian mainland, had survived the killer waves of December 26.

A senior Indian coast guard official told media that tribe members fired arrows at a helicopter when it was about 50 metres off the ground. Later, pilots flying air sorties confirmed that aborigines were indeed safe on high ground.

He also said that Onge tribe, who number about 100, were also safe on Greater Nicobar island.

Experts had worried that the 200-strong Sentinelese, perhaps the most isolated community in the world and extremely hostile to outsiders, might have perished. That's because the Nicobar islands -- of which North Sentinel Island is a part -- broke the brunt of the tsunami while the Andaman islands, which lie to the north, escaped relatively unscathed.

The Onge, who live off the sea and live near the coast, were also considered vulnerable to the disaster.

However, 3,000 Nicobarese, who form the biggest of the six indigenous groups on the islands, are missing, reports said.

Andaman and Nicobar, a cluster of about 500 mostly uninhabited islands, are closer to Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand than the Indian mainland. That distance and their sparse population mean that the archipelago barely registers on the Indian consciousness and little mention is found in the national media.

But the region has long been of anthropological interest since it is home to some of the rarest tribes in the world whose populations have been steadily declining, raising fears of extinction among experts.

In India, the region was the most devastated after Tamil Nadu state, where the death toll is around 7,000. A senior information ministry official said that about 1,000 people have been confirmed dead in Andaman and Nicobar, with more than 5,000 missing and presumed dead. Thousands are stuck in relief camps.

The island chain is home to six indigenous tribes of ancient origin who have been living there for up to 30,000 years, anthropologists say. Many are semi-nomadic and subsist on hunting by bow and arrow as well as gathering fruit and roots.

L The Jarawa, who live on the Middle and South Andamans islands, are perhaps the most ancient race on earth and their living habits seem to resemble those of Stone Age people. It is believed they have had little contact with the outside world until a few years ago. They number about 270.

L The Sentinelese, who live on North Sentinel island, are considered the most isolated community in the world and are hostile to outsiders. About 200-250 remain.

L The Great Andamanese reside on Strait Island and are reported to be the smallest community in the world, with about 40-45 left.

L The Onge, who live on Little Andaman, are said to be the happiest-looking of the tribes. They number 100.

L The Shompen, who live on Greater Nicobar Island, shy away from contact with the outside world. They have 150-200 members.

L The Nicobarese, who live on Central Nicobar island, have the most contact with outside world, as well as that largest population, at 10,000-15,000 people.

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