Sunday, December 14, 2008

Onge deaths - NDTV report
It's one of the oldest tribes facing a threat for their survival. The death of eight members of the primitive Onge tribe after drinking liquid from a can in the Andamans earlier this week has shocked anthropologists.

They want forensic experts to identify the killer liquid and also find out how it reached them.

The Onges knew the difference between alcohol and other chemicals, says the director, Anthropological Survey of India, so they couldn't have had the killer liquid by mistake.

"The Onges, as we understand, are not that primitive. They can speak Hindi; some can even speak English. And they are able to distinguish what is alcohol, what is petrol, what is diesel. We need to understand, we need to know the facts," said VR Rao, Director-In-Charge, Anthropological Survey of India.

"Andaman and Nicobar Islands host four primitive tribes -- the Onges who now number 93, the Jarwas who number 320, the Shompens who number 382 and the Sentinelese, an estimated 100 to 150 -- who have virtually no contact with civilization," said Merriam Ros, Survivors International, NGO.

A Jarwa male was shot dead by poachers recently. The Andaman Grand Trunk Road or ATR that runs through their settlement is also considered a threat.

"As anthropologists we always feel that ATR construction has in fact disturbed the local tribal life. In that way, we say ATR should be closed," Rao said.

For thousands of years the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have sheltered the primitive tribes. But the islands are clearly no longer safe havens against extinction.

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