According to recent news from Survival International, “In 2013, the Andaman Administration promised to open a sea route to the Islands’ most popular tourist destinations, which would stop tourists needing to drive through the Jarawa’s reserve. The sea route has recently become operational. But despite the authorities’ commitment to ensuring all tourists would have to use the sea route, very few currently do, and the market in human safaris along the road is flourishing. One tour company, Tropical Andamans, states that: “The Famous Jarawa creek is a lonely planet in itself. It is the dwelling place of the oldest tribes found in these islands. The tribes known as Jarawas, are aloof from the civilized world. They are the wonder of the modern world, for they feed on raw pigs, fruits, and vegetables. They don’t speak any language known to general public. Their pitch black skin and red eyes will leave you dazzled in case you happen to meet them.”
A tourist website, Flywidus, offers a glimpse of “primitive tribals” to tourists driving through the Jarawa reserve, and another, Holidify, describe the Jarawa as a “major attraction” and claims that the Jarawa “love the high of specific drugs, one of it being tobacco.”
Activists are now concerned about the future of North Sentinel Island, circled by spectacular clear sapphire water, a secure ring of submerged coral reefs and completely covered by a thick mangrove jungle that ends at the powdery white beaches. This outcast paradise, removed from all civilization, is surrounded by more mystery than any science fiction film.
Located far into the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, North Sentinel Island is one of the most isolated places on earth. Approximately the size of Manhattan, this remote island is home to the Sentinelese tribe, the most dangerous tribe in the world. I was recently traveling in the area and was struck by the beauty of the region, but also shocked by how quickly development and tourism is encroaching on these unexplored islands.
The North Sentinel island made headlines in 2006 after the tribe murdered two fishermen who had illegally approached the island. After the incident, a 3-mile zone has been imposed around the island, and the Sentinelese have since kept a low profile.
Sentinelese Tribe prepared to attack anyone approaching the island
The Indian government, who previously tried to establish a relationship with the tribe, have since stopped all attempts to make contact. To this day, very little is known about the Islanders. An estimate suggests around 300 members remain on the island, however, the mystery remains as to what really exists deep inside the lush island.
In recent months, fears have begun mounting that plans for a tourism boom beyond neighboring Andaman and Nicobar Islands may reverse this, and pose a threat to all four Andaman tribes. The plans include the introduction of high-end human safari companies and resort developments. The Barefoot Resort made headlines that they were building very close to the Jarawa reserve in an area that the Jarawa tribe call home, and perhaps the only space left between the Sentinelese and civilized society. However, those claims were rebutted in an exhaustive report by the company.
Once tourists encroach on the area and bring disease to the tribal members, the results could be catastrophic. Also, any tourists subsequently killed by tribal members, would force the government to retaliate and ultimately clear the area.
According to Survival International, hundreds of tourists continue to pass through the Jarawa reserve on a daily basis. Both the United Nations and India’s Supreme Court have called for the closure of the Andaman Trunk Road, which brings hundreds of vehicles through the Jarawa reserve on a daily basis, treating the Jarawa like safari attractions and disturbing the animals which they hunt for their survival. I was personally approached by several tour operators promoting human safaris and the opportunity to see the hidden tribes.
The Jarawa and neighboring tribes are extremely vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders and could face a similar fate to that of the neighboring Great Andamanese tribe, who were decimated by forced settlement and diseases introduced by British colonizers.
Survival International also announced that authorities on India’s Andaman Islands have failed to end human safaris to the vulnerable Jarawa tribe by their self-imposed deadline of March 2015. While the islands administration has made some positive steps towards taking tourists off an illegal road that runs through the Jarawa reserve, progress on the alternative sea route has been painfully slow. In 2013, the Andaman authorities promised the Indian Supreme Court that they would introduce an alternative sea route by this Summer, but building work has not yet started and they have now missed their deadline.
While numerous tour operators from across the world have started to withdraw from offering tours to the Andamans as a protest against the degrading safari tours being offered to see the Jarawa tribe, however, several local operators are now starting to organize the Ultimate Human Safari in protected armored boats to the shores of North Sentinel. Scuba diving operators are also planning the exploration of the sunken ship Primrose, off the island’s beach. Anyone with enough cash can also gain restricted access. This will ultimately spell disaster on all fronts as wealthy foreign tourists beyond India start to show interest in something dangerous and forbidden.
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. That is 35,000 years before the last Ice Age. They are now far 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 groups who live self-sufficiently on their land, 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 ponyfish. They also gather fruits, wild roots, tubers, and honey.
The Sentinelese tend to live in families of 3 to 4 people within shelter type huts with no side walls although some appear to live in larger communal dwellings which are more elaborately constructed, with raised floors and separate family quarters. They are equipped with javelins and flat bows – with amazing accuracy against human targets as far as 350 feet. They also have three types of arrows, used for fishing, hunting, and unarmed ones for shooting warning shots, which they use to ward off helicopters flying over the island.
Survival International is active in helping to protect the area “At Survival we continue to emphasize that there should be no further attempts to contact the Sentinelese, urging the administration of the Andaman Islands to adhere to this by putting a stop to poaching around the island which led to the deaths of two fishermen in 2006. This is why it is vital that we allow the Sentinelese to live in peace on their island. Any human contact will ultimately lead to tragic consequences on both sides” says Miriam Ross.
With plans for the expansion of tourism on the Andaman Islands, the future of this unexplored region is uncertain. What is certain is the continuing degrading contact between tourists and tribe members as witnessed in the video below shot by an anonymous tourist on one of the countless human safaris currently operating.