December 27, 2004

Did the Andamanese pygmy negritos survive the tsunami?

The Times of India speculates on the fate of the most isolated uncontacted stone age tribe in the known world, the North Sentinel Islanders in the Andaman chain, northwest of Sumatra:

An enormous anthropological disaster is in the making. The killer tsunami is feared to have wiped out entire tribes — already threatened by their precariously small numbers — perhaps rendering them extinct and snapping the slender tie with a lost generation. Officials involved in rescue operations are pessimistic, but still keeping their fingers crossed for the Sentinelese and Nicobarese, the two tribes seen as bearing the brunt of the killer wave. The bigger fear is for the Sentinelese, anthropologically the most important tribe, living on the flat North Sentinel Island. Putting their population at about 100, officials say no body count is possible as the tribe had remained isolated.

The Shompens, Great Andamanese and Jarawas are expected to have fared better as they live on comparatively higher grounds. But their small number could be working against them.

The Great Andamanese were just about gone due to the introduction of outsides disease when the English and Indians came in the 1850s. The Jarawa thrived in the jungle until they began coming into town about five years ago, and immediately started dying of pneumonia. The North Sentinelese are on their own island, protecting them from germs, and continue to drive off interlopers with showers of arrows.

North Sentinel Island is surrounded by reefs that keep shipping away. Whether that would be enough to stop the tsunami, I couldn't stay. Presumably, the inhabitants have been there a loooong time, suggesting, perhaps, that they've survived tsunamis before. We can only hope.

In happier times, I interviewed George Weber, founder of

UPDATE: A new report:

Ongi, Sentinel, Jarwa tribes in Andamans are safe Wednesday, 29 December , 2004, 01:23 New Delhi: The aborigines in Andaman and Nicobar Islands -- Ongi, Sentinel and Jarwa tribes -- are safe, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Tuesday.

While the Ongi people escaped the Tsunami disaster as they located at slightly higher places, the inhabiting Sentinel and Jarwas have not not been affected by the tidal waves, Mukherjee, who visited the Islands along with Congress President Sonia Gandhi, told reporters. Describing as highly exaggerated reports about the casualties suffered in the Islands, Mukherjee said a joint secretary in the Home Ministry has been asked to camp there to oversee relief and rehabilitation operations. He also said that no date has been firmed up for the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the disaster zones.

Well, that sounds promising, but whether the minister has solid information or is just telling people not to assume the worst remains to be seen.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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