The Jarawas (also Järawa, Jarwa) are an indigenous people of the Andaman Islands in India. They live in parts of South Andaman and Middle Andaman Islands, and their present numbers are estimated at between 250–400 individuals. They have largely shunned interaction with outsiders, and many particulars of their society, culture, and traditions are poorly understood.
The Jarawas are recognized as an Adivasi group in India. Along with other indigenous Andamanese peoples, they have inhabited the islands for at least several thousand years, and most likely a great deal longer. The Andaman Islands have been known to outsiders since antiquity; however, until quite recent times they were infrequently visited, and such contacts were predominantly sporadic and temporary. For the greater portion of their history their only significant contact has been with other Andamanese groups. Through many decades the contact to the tribe has diminished quite significantly.
There is some indication that the Jarawa regarded the now-extinct Jangil tribe as a parent tribe from which they split centuries or millennia ago, even though the Jarawa outnumbered (and eventually out-survived) the Jangil. The Jangil (also called the Rutland Island Aka Bea) were presumed extinct by 1931.
The Jarawa are a designated Scheduled Tribe.
Contact, settlements and dislocation:
Comparative map showing distributions of various Andamanese tribes in the Andaman Islands – early 1800s versus present-day (2004). Notables:
(a) Rapid depopulation of the original southeastern Jarawa homeland in the 1789–1793 period
(b) Onge and Great Andamanese shrinkage to isolated settlements
(c) Complete Jangil extinction by 1931
(d) Jarawa move to occupy depopulated former west coast homeland of the Great Andamanese
(e) Only the Sentinelese zone is somewhat intact
Before the 19th century, the Jarawa homelands were located in the southeast part of South Andaman Island and nearby islets. With the establishment of the initial British settlement, these are suspected to have been largely depopulated by disease shortly after 1789. The Great Andamanese tribes were similarly depopulated by the introduction of alcohol and opium, leaving open the western areas which the Jarawa gradually made their new homeland. The spreading of opium and alcohol was to some extent sponsored by the colonial authorities in order to depopulate the Jarawa. The immigration of mainland Indian and Karen (Burmese) settlers, beginning about two centuries ago, accelerated this process. Prior to their initiating contact with settled populations in 1997, the Jarawa were noted for vigorously maintaining their independence and distance from external groups, actively discouraging most incursions and attempts at contact. Since 1998, they have been in increasing contact with the outside world and have increasingly been the initiators of such contact. All contact, especially with tourists, remains extremely dangerous to the Jarawa due to the risk of disease. Of the remaining Andamanese peoples, only the Sentinelese have been able to maintain a more isolated situation, and their society and traditions persist with little variance from their practices they observed before the first significant contacts were made. Today the Jarawa are in regular contact with the outside world through settlements on the fringes of their Reserve, through daily contact with outsiders along the Andaman Trunk Road and at jetties, marketplaces and hospitals near the road and at settlements near the reserve, with some children even showing up at mainstream schools and asking to be educated along with settler children.
The Jarawas are hostile towards outsiders and are sometimes accessible to Indian linguists.
The Jarawas are the only remaining Negrito remnants of the Andaman Islands out of four. Other than having a history as traditional hunter-forager-fishermen, they also had reputations as warriors and uncompromising defenders of their territory. The Jarawas lived through British encroachment in the 19th century, as well as Japanese occupation later on.
Jarawas currently have a population of 270 remaining. Their primary threat is a highway, Andaman Trunk Road, running through their territory and reserve of 1,028 square kilometers of dense evergreen forests.
Hunting & Diet:
As the Jarawas are a nomadic tribe, they hunt endemic wild pigs, monitor lizards, and other quarry with bows and arrows. They would keep no dogs to help hunting, until recently to become more similar to the Ones and Andamanese.
Since this is an island tribe, food sources in the ocean are highly important to them. Men would fish with bows and arrows in shallow water. Women would catch fish with baskets.
Mollusks, dugongs, and turtles are a major part of the Jarawa diet. Besides meat and seafood, Jarawas love to collect fruit, tubers, and honey from the forest. In order to get the honey from the bees, they would use a plant extract to calm the bees.
The Jarawa bow, made of chuiood (Sageraca elliptica) is also known as “aao” in their own language. The arrow is called “patho”. The wooden head of the arrow is made of areca wood. To make the iron head arrow, called “aetaho” in their language, they use iron and areca wood or babmo. Their chest guard in order to go hunting or for any raids is called “kekad.”
Impact of the Great Andaman Trunk Road:
The biggest threat to the Jarawa in recent years came from the building of the Great Andaman Trunk Road through their newer western forest homeland in the 1970s. In late 1997, some Jarawa started coming out of their forest to visit nearby settlements for the first time. Within months a serious measles epidemic broke out. In 2006 the Jarawa suffered another outbreak of measles. No deaths were reported.
The impact of the highway, in addition to widespread encroachment, poaching and commercial exploitation of Jarawa lands, caused a lawsuit to be filed with the Calcutta High Court, which has jurisdiction over the islands. The case escalated to the Supreme Court of India as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL). The Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, the Bombay Natural History Society and Pune-based Kalpavriksh joined in the petition, resulting in a landmark High Court judgment in 2001, directing the administration to take steps to protect the Jarawa from encroachment and contact, as well as preemptively ruling out any program that involved relocating the Jarawa to a new reservation. Planned extensions of the highway were also prohibited by the court. However, the Light of Andamans editorialised that the changes to the Jarawa were likely irreversible and should have been assessed more thoroughly before the road was built.
Impact of tourism:
A major problem is the volume of sightseeing tours that are operated by private companies, where tourists view, photograph or otherwise attempt interactions with Jarawas, who are often begging by the highway. These are illegal under Indian law, and in March 2008, the Tourism Department of the Andaman and Nicobar administration issued a fresh warning to tour operators that attempting contact with Jarawas, photographing them, stopping vehicles while transiting through their land or offering them rides were prohibited under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956, and would be prosecuted under a strict interpretation of the statute. It has been alleged, however, that these rules are openly being flouted with over 500 tourists being taken to view Jarawas daily by private tour operators, while technically being shown as transiting to legitimate destinations and resulting in continuing daily interaction between the Jarawa and day tourists inside the reserve area.
In 2006, the Indian travel company Barefoot had established a resort 3 km distant from the Jarawa reserve. The development was the subject of a recent court case brought by a small section of Andaman authorities who wanted to stop the resort, and appealed against a Calcutta High Court ruling allowing it to continue. Barefoot won that case.
Some Indian tourism companies bring tourists close to their secluded areas where the natives are tossed food from the caravans. In 2012, a video shot by a tourist showed women encouraged to dance by an off-camera policeman.
On 21 January 2013 a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and H.L. Gokhale passed an interim order banning the tourists from taking trunk road passing through Jarawa area. As a response to this interim order, a petition was filed on behalf of local inhabitants which stated that the Andaman Trunk Road is a very vital road and connects more than 350 villages. The Supreme Court therefore, on 5 March 2013 reversed its interim order, allowing the road to be fully re-opened, but with vehicles only being allowed to travel in large convoys four times a day.
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