Cover Story

- The First People


Art & Architecture

- Shanti Niketan &  Art

- Pakistani Modernists    



- Harappan Links



- Cutting Edge Safari



- Hands Across Borders



- Ayurvedic Spas



- Elephant Polo



- Shop No. 256


Lifestyle & People

- Tareq Salahi


South Asian Memories

- Chakwal Remembered


Editor's Note


South Asian Shop




the-south-asian.com                         7  August   2000

  about us        databank      archives       contact us              south asian shop     

The First People

by  Roopa 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.


next page


Copyright © 2000 [the-south-asian.com]. Intellectual Property. All rights reserved.