National Geographic : 1975 Jul
fragments of an ancient pygmy race that may have once been widespread in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Fables of cunning and ferocity still envelop them more than a cen tury after the British, who settled the Anda mans, dispelled the myth that the natives were cannibals. Masters of their jungled homeland for mil lenniums, the Negritos today number scarcely 600, a small fraction of the Andaman's 115,000 population. Besides the Sentinelese, the re maining tribes are the Jarawas, who live along the western coasts of Middle and South Andaman; the Great Andamanese on Strait Island; and the Onges on Little Andaman. Though mentioned by Arab travelers as early as A.D. 871, the Andaman Islands re mained isolated through the centuries. Heavy rains and driving seas of the southwest mon soon made the islands hard to approach by sailing ship from May to November. The islands' sinister reputation kept mar iners away when the storms did not. Malay and Chinese pirates, raiding here for Negrito slaves, raised superstitious fear and hatred of outsiders. So when a ship put in for water or shelter, or was wrecked, Negritos tore sailors limb from limb and cast them into the flames to destroy evil spirits. Any who escaped brought away lurid tales echoing Marco Polo's hearsay report of brutish idolaters who killed and ate every outsider they could lay hands on. Seesaw Policy Confuses Tribesmen As contacts with foreigners increased, the Andaman Negritos faced the problem com mon to primitive peoples all over the world. Indians and Europeans, with good intentions and bad, deprived them of land and liveli hood, undermined their society, and intro duced epidemics that wiped out entire groups. The discipline of anthropology was devel oped just in time to reveal what a rich variety of cultures was being lost. Yet few students of man came to champion the Andamanese. Ed ward Horace Man, a colonial administrator in the 1870's, and noted British anthropologist Pausing to drop gifts of cloth, tools, eating utensils, and food on an unoccupied beach, the expedition then retires offshore as the Sentinelese arrive. "We come in peace," shouts an Onge, a member of a friendly tribe (above). The message is in vain. Though all the Negritos speak dialects with the same linguistic base, differences in vocabulary prevent communication. Ashore, the hunters spear the gift pig, examine the cups and plates (right), and cart off a bag of coconuts. One bowman again trained his weapon on the visitors, but most of the Negritos let curiosity rule and merely watched the boat party.