Jarawas (Andaman Islands)

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Total population
approx. 250–400 (estimate)
380 (2011 Census of India)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Western side of South Andaman and Middle Andaman Islands (India)
Jarawa, one of the Ongan languages
Related ethnic groups
Other indigenous Andamanese peoples, particularly Onge

The Jarawas (also Järawa, Jarwa) (Jarawa: Aong, pronounced [əŋ][2]) are an indigenous people of the Andaman Islands in India. They live in parts of South Andaman and Middle Andaman Islands, and their present numbers are estimated at between 250–400 individuals. They have largely shunned interaction with outsiders, and many particulars of their society, culture and traditions are poorly understood.

The Jarawas are recognised as an Adivasi group in India. Along with other indigenous Andamanese peoples, they have inhabited the islands for at least several thousand years, and most likely a great deal longer. The Andaman Islands have been known to outsiders since antiquity; however, until quite recent times they were infrequently visited, and such contacts were predominantly sporadic and temporary. For the greater portion of their history their only significant contact has been with other Andamanese groups. Through many decades, contact with the tribe has diminished quite significantly.

There is some indication that the Jarawa regarded the now-extinct Jangil tribe as a parent tribe from which they split centuries or millennia ago, even though the Jarawa outnumbered (and eventually out-survived) the Jangil.[3] The Jangil (also called the Rutland Island Aka Bea) were presumed extinct by 1931.[4]

The Jarawa are a designated Scheduled Tribe in India.[5]

Contact, settlements and dislocation[edit]

Comparative map showing distributions of various Andamanese tribes in the Andaman Islands – early 1800s versus present-day (2004). Notables:
  1. Rapid depopulation of the original southeastern Jarawa homeland in the 1789–1793 period
  2. Onge and Great Andamanese shrinkage to isolated settlements
  3. Complete Jangil extinction by 1931
  4. Jarawa move to occupy depopulated former west coast homeland of the Great Andamanese
  5. Only the Sentinelese zone is somewhat intact

Before the 19th century, the Jarawa homelands were located in the southeast part of South Andaman Island and nearby islets. With the establishment of the initial British settlement, these are suspected to have been largely depopulated by disease shortly after 1789.[6] The Great Andamanese tribes were similarly depopulated by their overuse of alcohol and opium after their introduction, leaving open the western areas which the Jarawa gradually made their new homeland. The spreading of opium and alcohol was to some extent sponsored by the colonial authorities in order to depopulate the Jarawa.[7] The immigration of mainland Indian and Karen (Burmese) settlers, beginning about two centuries ago, accelerated this process. Prior to their initiating contact with settled populations in 1997, the Jarawa were noted for vigorously maintaining their independence and distance from external groups, actively discouraging most incursions and attempts at contact. Since 1998, they have been in increasing contact with the outside world and have increasingly been the initiators of such contact. All contact, especially with tourists, remains extremely dangerous to the Jarawa due to the risk of disease.[8] Of the remaining Andamanese peoples, only the Sentinelese have been able to maintain a more isolated situation, and their society and traditions persist with little variance from their practices they observed before the first significant contacts were made.[citation needed] Today the Jarawa are in regular contact with the outside world through settlements on the fringes of their Reserve, through daily contact with outsiders along the Andaman Trunk Road and at jetties, marketplaces and hospitals near the road and at settlements near the reserve, with some children even showing up at mainstream schools and asking to be educated along with settler children.[9]

The Jarawas are hostile towards outsiders and are sometimes accessible to Indian linguists.[10]

The Jarawas are the only remaining Negrito remnants of the Andaman Islands out of four. Other than having a history as traditional hunter-forager-fishermen, they also had reputations as warriors and uncompromising defenders of their territory. The Jarawas lived through British encroachment in the 19th century, as well as Japanese occupation later on.[11]

Jarawas currently have a population of 270 remaining. Their primary threat is a highway, Andaman Trunk Road, running through their territory and reserve of 1,028 square kilometers of dense evergreen forests.[12]

Hunting and diet[edit]

As the Jarawas are a nomadic tribe, they hunt endemic wild pigs, monitor lizards and other quarry with bows and arrows. They have kept no dogs to help with hunting, until recently to become more similar to the Onges and Andamanese.[11]

Since this is an island tribe, food sources in the ocean are highly important to them. Men fish with bows and arrows in shallow water. Women catch fish with baskets.

Mollusks, dugongs and turtles are a major part of the Jarawa diet. Besides meat and seafood, Jarawas collect fruit, tubers and honey from the forest. In order to get the honey from the bees, they use a plant extract to calm the bees.

The Jarawa bow, made of chuiood (Sageraea elliptica) is also known as "aao" in their own language. The arrow is called "patho". The wooden head of the arrow is made of Areca wood. To make the iron head arrow, called "aetaho" in their language, they use iron and Areca wood or bamboo. Their chest guard in order to go hunting or for any raids is called "kekad".[13]

Impact of the Great Andaman Trunk Road[edit]

The biggest threat to the Jarawa in recent years came from the building of the Great Andaman Trunk Road through their newer western forest homeland in the 1970s.[14][15] In late 1997, some Jarawa started coming out of their forest to visit nearby settlements for the first time. Within months a serious measles epidemic broke out.[citation needed] In 2006 the Jarawa suffered another outbreak of measles.[citation needed] No deaths were reported.

The impact of the highway, in addition to widespread encroachment, poaching and commercial exploitation of Jarawa lands, caused a lawsuit to be filed with the Calcutta High Court, which has jurisdiction over the islands. The case escalated to the Supreme Court of India as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, the Bombay Natural History Society and Pune-based Kalpavriksh joined in the petition, resulting in a landmark High Court judgment in 2001, directing the administration to take steps to protect the Jarawa from encroachment and contact, as well as preemptively ruling out any program that involved relocating the Jarawa to a new reservation. Planned extensions of the highway were also prohibited by the court.[16] However, the Light of Andamans editorialised that the changes to the Jarawa were likely irreversible and should have been assessed more thoroughly before the road was built.[14]

Impact of tourism[edit]

A major problem is the volume of sightseeing tours that are operated by private companies, where tourists view, photograph or otherwise attempt interactions with Jarawas, who are often begging by the highway. These are illegal under Indian law, and in March 2008, the Tourism Department of the Andaman and Nicobar administration issued a fresh warning to tour operators that attempting contact with Jarawas, photographing them, stopping vehicles while transiting through their land or offering them rides were prohibited under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956 and would be prosecuted under a strict interpretation of the statute.[17] It has been alleged, however, that these rules are being flouted with over 500 tourists being taken to view Jarawas daily by private tour operators, while being shown as transiting to legitimate destinations and resulting in continuing daily interaction between the Jarawa and day tourists inside the reserve area.[17]

In 2006, the Indian travel company Barefoot had established a resort 3 km distant from the Jarawa reserve. The development was the subject of a recent court case brought by a small section of Andaman authorities who wanted to stop the resort, and appealed against a Calcutta High Court ruling allowing it to continue.[18] Barefoot won that case.[citation needed]

Some Indian tourism companies bring tourists close to their secluded areas where the natives are tossed food from the caravans.[19] In 2012, a video shot by a tourist showed women encouraged to dance by an off-camera policeman.[19]

On 21 January 2013 a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and H.L. Gokhale passed an interim order banning tourists from taking the trunk road passing through Jarawa area. As a response to this interim order, a petition was filed on behalf of local inhabitants which stated that the Andaman Trunk Road is a very vital road and connects more than 350 villages. The Supreme Court therefore, on 5 March 2013 reversed its interim order, allowing the road to be fully re-opened, but with vehicles only being allowed to travel in large convoys four times a day.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011census/PCA/SC_ST/PCA-A11_Appendix/ST-35-PCA-A11-APPENDIX.xlsx
  2. ^ Kumar, Pramod (2012). Descriptive and Typological study of Jarawa (Ph.D.). Jawaharlal Nehru University.
  3. ^ Maurice Vidal Portman (1898), Notes on the Languages of the South Andaman Group of Tribes, Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, Government of India, ... 'Jangil' is here used for 'Ancestors.' I found that this word was used by the very ancient Aka-Bea-da for the name of the hostile inland tribe in the South Andaman, who are now known as Jarawas and who belong to the Onge group of tribes.
  4. ^ George van Driem (2001), Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region : Containing an Introduction to the Symbiotic Theory of Language, BRILL, ISBN 90-04-12062-9, ... The Aka-Kol tribe of Middle Andaman went extinct by 1921. The Oko-Juwoi of Middle Andaman and the Aka-Bea of South Andaman and Rutland Island were extinct by 1931. The Akar-Bale of Ritchie's Archipelago, the Aka-Kede of Middle Andaman and the A-Pucikwar of South Andaman Island soon followed. By 1951, the census counted a total of only 23 Greater Andamanese and 10 Sentinelese. That means that just ten men, twelve women and one child remained of the Aka-Kora, Aka-Cari and Aka-Jeru tribes of Greater Andaman and only ten natives of North Sentinel Island ...
  5. ^ "List of notified Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census India. p. 27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  6. ^ Sita Venkateswar (2004), Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands, IWGIA, ISBN 87-91563-04-6, ... As I have suggested previously, it is probable that some disease was introduced among the coastal groups by Lieutenant Colebrooke and Blair's first settlement in 1789, resulting in a marked reduction of their population. The four years that the British occupied their initial site on the south-east of South Andaman were sufficient to have decimated the coastal populations of the groups referred to as Jarawa by the Aka-bea-da ...
  7. ^ Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Francesco Cavalli-Sforza (1995), The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution, Basic Books, ISBN 0-201-44231-0, ... Contact with whites, and the British in particular, has virtually destroyed them. Illness, alcohol, and the will of the colonials all played their part; the British governor of the time mentions in his diary that he received instructions to destroy them with alcohol and opium. He succeeded completely with one group. The others reacted violently ...
  8. ^ "Jarawa", Survival International, 2009, retrieved 2009-07-06, ... The principal threat to the Jarawa's existence comes from encroachment onto their land, which was sparked by the building of a highway through their forest in the 1970s. The road brings settlers, poachers and loggers, who steal the tribe's game and expose them to disease...
  9. ^ Vishvajit Pandya (2 June 2007). "From dangerous to endangered: Jarawa "primitives" and welfare politics in the Andaman Islands". Archived from the original on 5 May 2009. Retrieved 2 July 2009. "The early history of Jarawa hostility towards outsiders was brought to a gradual end by a series of friendly contacts by the Indian administration which continued till 1998–99 when the Jarawa community on its own came in close sustained contact with the outside world. Despite the changing trajectories of the history of contact between Jarawas and outsiders, what remains significantly unchanged are perceptions of the Jarawa from colonial to post-colonial times." "The Jarawa no longer loiter on the roadside, waiting for charity from passing people. They now allow themselves to be photographed against payment in kind. The ATR has changed the Jarawa and made them conscious that they are objects of discipline for the administration or commodities for gawking tourists in search of the "exotic" in the Andamans. This understanding has helped them to negotiate situations involving outsiders with increasing confidence." "Jarawa seeking medical help are moved to the local medical establishments at once. It is no longer a situation of outsiders trying to convince Jarawa to come out and seek medical assistance. They do so willingly at their own initiative" "These Jarawa, as has been experienced, are very friendly, speak Hindi very fluently and regularly visit the local inhabitants for food. It has also been observed that a group of about 80 Jarawa who regularly visit the Tirur area are so friendly with the people that a few of the Jarawa children recently approached the local teacher for admission in the school as they had observed other children studying in the school/college".
  10. ^ "A Bibliographical Introduction to Andamanese Linguistics". JSTOR 604090.
  11. ^ a b "Palaeolithic Cognitive Inheritance in Aesthetic Behavior of the Jarawas of the Andaman Islands". JSTOR 40467418.
  12. ^ "Database for Indigenous Cultural Evolution" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Jarawa" (PDF).
  14. ^ a b "Editorial: After ATR what?", The Light of Andamans, 32 (2), 6 Jan 2006, ... The Great Andaman Trunk Road was constructed over the dead bodies of the APWD mazdoors, the Jarawas and the bush police personnel ... The road is mired in controversy, a very serious one at that ... the Jarawas have gone through a churning. They have acquired all, almost all, the vices of civilization. They have taken to eating rice and dal, taking tobacco and gutka and maybe even submitting to sexual exploitation whether by choice or due to allurement. They too have gone too far. The irony is: nobody knows how to save the tribe. Nobody is sure closing the ATR would save them. Yet they have to maintain the position. If the tribal civilization disintegrates even after closing the road, it is nobody's loss; except the islanders. Barring a few, the tribal rights activists don't belong to the islands ...
  15. ^ Anvita Abbi (2006), Endangered Languages of the Andaman Islands, Lincom Europa, ... The building of the Andaman Grand Trunk road has exposed Jarawas to the city dwellers and exploitation. Their fish catch and game are bought for a simple packet of biscuits. Jarawa children have become very fond of biscuits and loiter on the street to satisfy their desire from visiting tourists. These are highly endangered tribes, yet a slight increase in the population such as an increase from 19 in 1961 to 50 [refer to the table 2 given above] of Great Andamanese builds some hope. Nine days after giant waves struck the Little Andaman Island, a child was born at a relief camp at soccer stadium and the Ongre tribe of hunters and gatherers took a step away from extinction. Post-Tsunami life for tribes is varied. While Jarawas are least affected by the calamity ...
  16. ^ "The road to destruction", India Together, retrieved 2008-11-19, ... In 1998, in an issue relating to excessive logging activities in Little Andaman and the danger posed to the Onge tribe, the Pune-based environmental action group Kalpavriksh, the Port Blair-based SANE and the Mumbai-based Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) filed a writ petition before the Kolkata High Court. The administration stonewalled it. It was argued that the matter could be taken up only in the Supreme Court, and the case landed there ...
  17. ^ a b "जारवा के इलाकों में पयर्टकों का प्रवेश बंद (Tourists' entry to Jarawa areas forbidden)", oneIndia.in, 5 March 2008, retrieved 2008-11-24, ... इस आदेश का उल्लंघन करने वाले आपरेटरों के खिलाफ कड़ी कानूनी कार्रवाई की जायेगी. बयान में कहा गया कि यह जनजाति क्षेत्र केन्द्र शासित प्रदेश के प्रोटेक्श्न आफ एबोआरिजिनल ट्राइब्स रेगुलेशन एक्ट (1956) के अतंगर्त आते हैं (Violators will be prosecuted strictly. These tribal areas fall under the purview of the union territory's Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956)... अंडमान ट्रंक रोड (एटीआर) पर पर्यटकों को ले जाते समय वाहनों को रोका नहीं जाये और न ही जारवा जनजाति के लोगों को अपने वाहन में बैठाया जाये. उन्हें यह भी कहा गया कि वे यह भी ध्यान रखे कि न तो जारवा जनजाति के फोटो लिये जाये और न ही उनकी वीडियोग्राफी की जाये (Vehicles in which tourists are transit via the ATR are not permitted to stop or offer rides to Jarawa tribal members. Photography and videography of Jarawas is prohibited) ... गणेशन ने कहा कि आधिकारिक तौर पर यह दिखाया जाता है कि पर्यटकों को एटीआर होकर बारातंत द्वीप की सैर कराई जाती है ... हर रोज करीब पांच सौ से अधिक पर्यटकों (Ganeshan said that, while on paper tourists are shown as transiting to Baratang Island ... over 500 are being taken to view Jarawas every day) ....
  18. ^ "Indian Luxury Resort Endangers Isolated Jarawa Tribe", Ecoworldly, archived from the original on 25 June 2009, retrieved 2009-07-03, The survival of the Jarawa tribe, on the Andaman Islands in India, is threatened by the construction of a luxury resort ...
  19. ^ a b Chamberlain, Gethin (7 January 2012). "Andaman Islands tribe threatened by lure of mass tourism". The Guardian. London.