WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (IPS) – Asia’s last Paleolithic tribes appear to have survived last Sunday’s tsunamis, despite the fact that their homelands in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Andaman Sea were among the hardest hit of all the areas affected by the catastrophe.
Survival International (SI), a London-based group that tries to defend the world’s most vulnerable indigenous peoples, said that four of the five most isolated groups on the islands — the Jarawa, the Onge, the Sentinelese, and the Great Andamanese — may have suffered little, if any loss of life.
A fifth group, the 380-strong Shompen, have not yet been accounted for on Great Nicobar Island, but SI said it believes that the group’s strong preference for living in the deep forest, rather than on the coasts, makes it likely that they avoided the waves’ impact.
The largest and most integrated group by far, the 30,000-strong Nicobarese, suffered the greatest damage. All 12 villages on one island, Car Nicobar, were washed away, and initial reports indicated that as many 3,500 people were either killed or are now missing.
Sophie Grig, SI’s Andamans campaigner, said she expected the isolated communities to be less affected in the long term because they do not rely on an extensive infrastructure.
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There’s a similar ancient tribe in Sri Lanka, the Veddahs, who number only in the hundreds now. They predate any of the Sinhalese, Tamils, or Moors who settled in Sri Lanka. They also have a language that linguists would love to study, but since the Veddahs are so private, preferring to live deep in the jungle, there’s no reasonable opportunity. That, and the language is dying out. They’d like to study it to find out if it’s related to Sinhalese.
The Veddahs are dwindling, and given another generation or three, may no longer exist.