December 31, 2004

The Andamanese and Human Biodiversity Conservation


Reports remain confused about the fate of the pygmy negritos of the Andaman islands, hit hard by the tsunami, especially the uncontacted tribe on North Sentinel Island, but this almost-eyewitness account sounds promising:

"Our helicopter pilot who flew over [North Sentinel] island told me that he has seen several groups of Sentinelese on the beach and that when he dropped food packets they threw stones at the helicopter."

That sure sounds like the Sentinelese we (don't) know and love! When somebody offers to help them, they try to kill him. That attitude has kept them free of Eurasian diseases all these millennia.

That great picture of a steatopygous Andaman mom and how she carries her toddler around is now on-line here. There's another tremendous picture in Coon's Living Races of Man (1965) (buy it here): a portrait of a young pygmy negrito couple of Little Andaman Island, his arm lovingly around her shoulders, the joy in each other's company radiating outward. It's as happy a picture as you'll ever see. This photo is now on-line here,

That's the point about human biodiversity studies: differences and similarities.

There's a book from 2003 about the Andamanese: "The Land of Naked People : Encounters with Stone Age Islanders" by Scientific American staffer Madhusree Mukerjee.


Reports remain uncertain about the fates of the wild tribes of stone age pgymy negritos on the Andaman Islands, close to the epicenter of the earthquake that was the source of the killer tsunami. Here are long articles from the UK Independent, the BBC, and the UK Guardian, and from MSNBC.

Also struck hard were the Mongoloid Nicobarese tribesmen of the Nicobar archipelago south of the Andamans. There is a modest amount of information about them here. Here's a Thursday afternoon update on the ugly situation in the Nicobars.

If any good could come out of this disaster, it would be to make the world more aware of the importance of human biodiversity conservation. Virtually nobody in the media gave a damn about the Andamanese until this week. The health disaster that outside contact has inflicted on the Jarawa tribe of Andamanese pygmy negritos over the last half dozen years by exposing them to the outside world's germs was almost completely ignored.

Also, the very existence of the Andamanese, with their remarkable physical features, was an affront to prevailing norms of political correctness that demand that we "celebrate diversity" without actually noticing diversity. As I wrote in VDARE,

"The men average 4'-10" and 95 pounds. The women have such pronounced "steatopygia" that a mother who needs to carry her toddler on her back will have the child throw his arms around her neck and stand on her remarkably protuberant, gravity-defying buttocks. (Unfortunately, Carleton Coon's you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it photo of this is not on line.)"

UPDATE: That great picture is now on-line here. There's another tremendous picture in Coon's Living Races of Man (1965), a portrait of a young pygmy negrito couple, his arm lovingly around her shoulders, there joy in each other's company radiating outward. It's as happy a picture as you'll ever see.

We never miss anything until it's almost gone. Well, now that the last purely wild Andaman tribe, the Sentineli (a.k.a., Sentinelese, Sentenelese, or North Sentinel Islanders -- nobody knows what they call themselves), might be gone, the world has finally noticed that they existed in the first place.

Here's an excerpt from my 2002 interview with George H.J. Weber, founder of

In an era when we are routinely encouraged to celebrate diversity, perhaps no group of humans on Earth is more diverse yet less celebrated than the tiny but fierce Pygmy Negritos of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. They provide some of the best examples of what modern humans were like when they first emerged out of Africa dozens of millennia ago.

Wildlife biodiversity conservation is a hugely popular cause today, but little thought is given to preservation of human biodiversity, nor to protection of the few remaining Stone Age cultures. Yet, the Andamanese Negrito tribes have been decimated by contact with the modern world and its germs. Fortunately, one remaining tribe on isolated North Sentinel Island continues to drive off outsiders with swarms of arrows.

George H. J. Weber, a Swiss businessman and independent scholar, is the founder of the Andaman Association and creator of the encyclopedic Web site, which is the leading source for information on these almost unknown but fascinating people...

Q: What's been happening to the Jarawa tribe in the Andamans?

A: In the last few years ago, the Jarawa tribe has largely given up its old hostility toward all outsiders. The result was predictable: a large number of diseases have struck and violent crime is on the rise. The latest reports received privately speak of 50 percent infection rate with Hepatitis B among Jarawas (only a few months ago it was said to be 30 percent). Other diseases are rampant and one official has carelessly let slip that there is AIDS among the Jarawa. Officially, of course, all is well.

You had better heed local advice when meeting with Jarawa. Thanks to grossly incompetent government policies in the past, you are likely to meet them on the Andaman trunk road where they will hijack your bus and not be satisfied with a handshake, but instead will demand goodies -- or else. Such is progress in the Andamans.

Q: Why are Andamanese so vulnerable to the outside world?

A: They have been isolated from other people for a long time and have never had a chance to develop resistance against outside diseases. The Andamanese do have a limited immunity against malaria (a very ancient human scourge), but the common cold or an ordinary flu, let alone pneumonia, measles or venereal diseases, can be deadly to them.

Q: What's special about the North Sentinel Islanders?

A: They are the only Andamanese group that is today still as isolated as all the Andamanese were in the past. That they live on a coral-fringed island in stormy waters has protected them until now from those do-gooders who would "bring them into the mainstream of Indian society," as the nationalist phrase has it. For just what this expression means in reality, the Jarawa situation provides an all too clear illustration.

Q: Is their future safe?

A: "Missions of friendship" to the Sentineli have started only a few years ago. Just as with the Jarawa, most were junkets for visiting VIPs, camouflaged by being called "scientific." They were hurriedly aborted after the Jarawa catastrophe burst over the guilty administrators at Port Blair, the main city of the Andamans. At the moment, the Sentineli are left alone again and all development plans have been put on ice. May they long remain there.

UPDATE: There's also a book from 2003 about the Andamanese: "The Land of Naked People : Encounters with Stone Age Islanders" by Scientific American staffer Madhusree Mukerjee.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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