AUGUST    2001
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 Traditional societies - Wisdom and Challenges
Isabel Allende


 Hands Across Borders
- Bringing south Asia closer



 Sunil Dutt


 Shantiniketan and origin  of  Modern Art
Vijay Kowshik

Modern Idiom in Pakistan's Art
Niilofur Farrukh

Contemporary Art of  Bangladesh


Reinventing India
Mira Kamdar


Sufis - the  poet-saints 
Salman Saeed


Music Gharanas & Generation 2000
Mukesh Khosla


The First People - Wanniyala Aetto of Sri Lanka and Jarawa of Andaman
Nalini Bakshi


Royal Bengal's last roar?
Dev Duggal


the craft shop

the print gallery


Page  1  of  2

The First People

by  Nalini Bakshi


L : Jarawa of Andaman Islands, Photo Courtesy: Survival UK

R: Wanniyala Aetto- forest beings of Sri Lanka, Photo Courtesy:The Sunday Times,
Sri Lanka

Thousands of years ago all human beings hunted and gathered – today only a few remain of the hunting and gathering societies. The survival of these indigenous minorities is seriously threatened by the greed and insensitive economic requirements of those who rule and administer their land. The Wanniyala Aetto [also known as Veddahs in Sinhalese] of Sri Lanka and the Jarawas, who live in The Andaman Islands belonging to India, are the First Citizens of their respective habitats – they are the original Forest beings – people who understand and respect their environment as no other ‘progressive’ and ‘civilized’ group does. Their numbers are fast dwindling and with them will die the superior knowledge of their flora and fauna, their spiritual traditions, rituals, ceremonies, their social order, their expertise in indigenous medicine, and of course their language.


Indigenous societies such as the Wanniyala Aetto and the Jarawa have always lived in the same place for generations – forest is their home and animals and birds their neighbours and friends. They give back to the forest what they take from it. Unfortunately, these societies have been marginalised by political and economic greed, and their freedom violated.

The Wanniyala Aetto and the Jarawa and other tribes of Andaman Islands have been through an almost similar cycle of history and social exercise in rehabilitation at a very high cost. They have survived waves of migrants and colonists but fallen prey to Government policies which looked upon them as ‘primitive’ and in dire need of ‘development’. The development policy of the Governments meant encroaching on their traditional hunting grounds, clearing the forests to settle thousands of migrants , relocating the indigenous people to ‘settlements’, splitting communities that had always lived together, and introducing them to an alien way of life, language and religion. Such changes have impacted their physical and mental health. Contact with non-indigenous people exposed these groups to diseases to which they had no resistance. An epidemic of measles last year wiped away ten percent of the Jarawa population. [There are only 300-400 Jarawas ]. Alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, depression, are other ailments which are now appearing among those who have been ‘relocated’ to ‘civilisation’.

Most indigenous societies are highly evolved groups, that have, over thousands of years, developed a symbiotic relationship with their environment and live in close harmony with nature. Land is sacred. The Wanniyala Aetto, who had lived in their forest abode for time immemorial, clear and cultivate small plots of land within the forest for 1 or 2 years and then let the land rest for 7 to 8 years. They gather forest produce such as honey, plants, roots and hunt for jungle fowls and fish. Similarly, the Jarawa, who have lived in their rainforest home forever, hunt wild pigs, monitor lizards, fish and gather fruits and berries. Their lives are synchronised with their environment. More they do not need.


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