04 July 2010

The dangers of exposure

Just after I read the story about the Koroway I saw this in the Telegraph. The United Nations is leading a campaign to save the last surviving members of the Jarawa tribe amid growing calls for them to be integrated into mainstream society.

The tribe live on the Andaman Islands and are believed to be descendants of migrants who left Africa 65,000 years ago. The Jarawa have have dwindled to just 350 members because they have little or no resistance to western diseases carried onto the islands by foreign tourists. A related Andaman tribe, the Bo, became extinct last year when its last member died.

The Indian government has sought to keep them segregated from the island's growing tourist resorts amid reports of tribesmen bartering for whisky and tribal women having sexual intercourse with visitors. A number of tourist resort developments have been rejected because they were too close to a 400 square mile jungle reservation created to protect the Jarawa's traditional way of life.
Until recently, the tribesmen lived in groups of 50 men and women and survived by hunting deer, wild boar and fishing in the shallow waters off the islands' celebrated white sand, palm-fringed beaches.

But campaigners led by the islands' sole member of parliament have rejected the government's policy of isolating the tribe and have called for them to be integrated into mainstream society so they can enjoy the health, education, and modern technology benefits enjoyed by the island's 500,000 population.

According to the islands' MP, Bishnu Pada Ray, they are intelligent people denied the opportunities open to other Indians.

"They sell their deer meat and take rice or whisky. They like hot meals, they want mobile phones and televisions, and the women want face powder. They are having sexual relationships with settlers. They want to mingle and get educated," he told The Daily Telegraph.

A new report by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has called for tighter restrictions on the numbers of incomers onto the islands and the closure of the Andamans Trunk Road, which passes through the Jarawa reservation.

According to Pankaj Sesksaria, co-author of Unesco's Jarawa Tribal Reserve Dossier, tour operators are bringing visitors to "watch naked black people".

"The road is a vector of diseases and the threat is considerable," he said, citing two measles epidemics in 1999 and 2006 which are believed to have taken a heavy toll on the Jarawa population.

He said campaigners had accepted the Jarawa had chosen to break their own isolation but felt that opening up the reserve would be like "throwing people in the deep end to learn to swim."

What can one say? Whatever happens it looks like the Jarawa is the loser. Is this the Koroway's future?

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