National Geographic : 1975 Jul
miles through the jungle, emerging in a coco nut grove at dusk with the sound of surf and rustling palm fronds in my ears. I slept in the ramshackle wooden hut of the Indian social worker, Vasant Chowdhary, who had spent four years with the Onges and could mix a few Onge words with his Hindi. The next day he showed me about the camp. Beside the well, the camp's only supply of drinking water, two Onge women squatted, washing clothing. One man repaired the matting roof of his hut. Another worked on his canoe, singing a monotonous chant about how he had cut a tree at the forest edge and fashioned a dugout. Two Onges fished near shore with bows and arrows. A boy of about seven, who followed them, managed to shoot a fish and proudly brought it into camp. Visiting the thatched huts, I saw women applying ocher paste in graceful patterns to their husbands' faces as the couples sat on their tiny wooden cots. The paste is not only decorative, I learned, but a repellent against flies and other insects as well. The men wore loincloths or shorts, and the women a belt with a large tassel in front. I saw a woman fashioning a tassel from palm fiber; others were preparing tea, the favorite drink, or smoking pipes fashioned from crab claws. The Onges are heavy smokers. Forest Produce Serves as Money Other than traditional bows and arrows, adzes, digging sticks, and woven baskets, the Onges have few possessions: flashlights, enameled mugs and plates, cooking pots, and the plastic or galvanized buckets that have replaced the containers they formerly hol lowed out of logs. Whereas the Jarawas still live entirely off the forest and the sea, some Onges now barter. They take coconuts, and the resin and honey they gather in the forest, to the cooperative store in Hut Bay, where I had arrived by ship. There, under govern ment supervision, they trade these for wheat flour, tea, tobacco, and the airline bags and umbrellas that they fancy. Still, it struck me as incongruous, in a hut festooned with the jawbones of pigs, to find a bed pole hung with a sporty hat! The largest hut at Dugong Creek, a rec tangular thatched dwelling about 40 feet by 20 and open on one side, housed several elderly couples and widows. Smoke from a cooking fire filled it; a turtle boiled in a pot. Some of the aged were busy fashioning rope With eyes forest-keen, an Onge youth, on a hunt for wild pig, spots a bee colony high in a tree (facing page). Once such finds of honey triggered a spree of feasting, according to Italian anthropologist Lidio Cipriani, who spent more than five months among the Onges in the 1950's. "I have seen a group of about sixty Onges demolish in a few days ten pigs and a dozen large, wooden vessels full of honey, with basket after basket of fish...." For a visit to the store in Hut Bay settle ment, a man gathers coconuts (above) to be bartered for food and notions.