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Warning System of Aboriginal
We call ourselves the “civilized world”.
We call them “aboriginal tribes”. Sometimes, when we are in
a condescending mood, we smilingly refer to them as “the
missing links with our primitive past”.
There are also five distinct aboriginal tribes that inhabit the
islands of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago – the Jarawas,
Onges, Shompens, Sentinelese and the Great Andamanese.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which form a part of the
Indian nation, are situated in the Indian Ocean – almost
1,000 miles to the east of the mainland. They comprise of an
archipelago of over 500 islands – 38 of which are populated.
The main modern settlements are around Port Blair (the capital
town), on one of the northernmost islands. The cluster of towns
near the capital see an influx of tourists – both Indian and
foreign. And these islands are also home to members of
scientific teams, Coast Guards and the Indian military forces.
On the other hand, the original, native tribes (now forming
just 12% of the islands’ population) – by and large -- keep
very much to themselves – living on the remote, scattered
islands – in life-styles that have remained almost unchanged
over the centuries. You can say that that they are almost
“untouched by our modern civilization”. In fact, a few of
the tribes have (what can be best described as) a healthy
disdain for modern man and his civilized world!
On 26 December 2004, a massive, underwater earthquake took
place near the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra,
triggering off 20 feet high tsunami waves that ravaged the
coastlines of 12 countries along the rim of the Indian Ocean.
Now, it so happens that the beautiful islands of the Andaman
and Nicobar archipelago are situated a mere 60 nautical miles
to the west of the probable underwater epicenter of those
A Trail of
The tsunami waves
left a trail of death and destruction wherever they struck
along the coastlines!
The islands of Andaman and Nicobar bore the brunt of the
sea’s fury on that fateful day.
The village of Kakana – on the central Car Nicobar Island –
was once considered the ideal village, based on which the
neighbouring villages modeled themselves. It had a power
station, electricity, a school, banks, shops, concrete houses,
roads and television.
After the tsunami struck,
however, the village was almost reduced to rubble.
Village after village on the coastlines of the scattered
islands showed similar heartrending scenes. In addition, there
was tremendous loss to life and thousands of persons were
reported to be “missing”.
A week after the disaster, the figures sent in from the islands
showed about 700 dead and over 3,000 others missing.
And what about the
Had the island tribes survived the fury of the tsunami?
After all, most of the villages built on more modern standards
had been flattened by the waves.
The initial reports about the tribes that came in sounded most
grim. At first, there was every reason to believe that none of
the five tribes had survived!
southern islands of the Nicobar group are closest to the
epicenter of the tsunami. And it is mainly on these islands
that the aboriginal natives still live. (95% of the tribal
folks live in the central and southern Nicobar Islands).
sorties showed that many of the smaller islands of the
Nicobar group had been totally submerged by the disaster.
And there was a fear that many would never be seen again.
And what about the natives?
In recent years, these tribes had already dwindled to very
small numbers. The smallest tribe – the Sentinelese –
numbered only 32, while the largest group – Jarawas – had
about 226 members.
Had the indigenous tribes vanished under the waves?
A most welcome
shower of arrows!
A few days after the
tsunami struck, a Coast Guard helicopter was making a survey
over Sentinel Island – the home of the Sentinelese tribes.
On spotting some of the tribesmen on the beach, the curious
pilot veered the helicopter towards them.
At once, the tribesmen sent an angry shower of arrows at the
helicopter. That was taken as a sign that the tribe had not
only survived but was as fighting fit as ever! Their arrows
said it all – we have survived on our own and do not need
your help – thank you!
personnel in the helicopter clicked photographs of the
tribesmen, with their bows in hand, as proof to show that
the aborigines had survived the natural disaster.
On other tribal islands, it was found that the salt water from
the tsunami had contaminated the water holes. In these areas,
the Air Force airdropped food packages for the tribes.
native warning systems
The next question that surfaced in everyone’s minds was –
just how did these simple, unsophisticated people manage to
save themselves? After all, many of the larger bases on the
islands had almost been flattened and hundreds of civilians –
caught unawares -- had been washed into the sea.
probable answer lies in the ancient, ancestral warning
system that these tribes have evolved over the centuries.
Their system is simple and unique. The tribes-people live in
close harmony with nature and with the local flora and
fauna. They seem to have an intense system of by which they
observe their fellow-creatures. The cries of the birds, the
frenzy of the smaller mammals, even the change in the
swimming pattern of the marine animals – all give them
clues and signals of approaching natural calamities -- like
storms or tidal waves.
It is a system that has been developed – almost through
natural instinct – by their forefathers and which have been
passed down from generation to generation.
Probably, as the tribes-people read the signs on that fateful
day, they began to move their people inwards and upwards to
higher grounds just before the tsunami struck.
The surveys made later by the Coast Guards confirmed this –
all five of the indigenous tribes had “instinctively” moved
to safer, high ground.
A lesson for the civilized people
have further confirmed that these tribes probably trace
their traditions back 20,000 years – each generation
adding its own knowledge to the existing pool of
This knowledge has not yet been completely recorded and studied
by “civilized” man. Probably hidden somewhere in the
knowledge that the tribes have there may be some methods that
can be developed to form a warning system that will save future
generations of the civilized world from the destruction by the
forces of nature.
With the trauma of the tsunami fresh in our minds, this may be
the right time for the “civilized people” to start that
study – in a spirit of true humility.
And probably this is the right
point to end this narrative, but not before adding this
moral to the tale -- the next time we refer to ourselves as
the “civilized world” -- stop and think!
There’s a lot we have to learn from the so-called