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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

When Andaman & Nicobar islands’ Sentinelese tribe was filmed first

That dramatic episode of the aborigines shooting arrows and injuring FD filmmaker (late) Prem Vaidya is part of the 22-minute award-winning documentary, ‘Man in Search of Man’, produced by FD, a body under the information and broadcasting ministry.

india Updated: Nov 25, 2018 00:17 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Pune
Screen gabs of award-winning documentary of the late Pune-based filmmaker Prem Vaidya, 'Man in Search of Man’
Screen gabs of award-winning documentary of the late Pune-based filmmaker Prem Vaidya, 'Man in Search of Man’(HT Photo)
         

The protected North Sentinelese aborigines of the Andaman & Nicobar islands, in the news after they killed American citizen John Allen Chau recently, were first captured on film in March 1974 while shooting arrows at a Films Division (FD) crew.

That dramatic episode of the aborigines shooting arrows and injuring FD filmmaker (late) Prem Vaidya is part of the 22-minute award-winning documentary, ‘Man in Search of Man’, produced by FD, a body under the information and broadcasting ministry. As recounted by Vaidya in his memoir, ‘Memorable Assignments on Moving Images’, published by National Film Archive of India, Pune, the three-member FD crew, along with some experts, left Port Blair and sailed towards North Sentinel island on March 28, 1974, reaching it the next day.

In a small boat, the crew first surveyed the 47 km island from one end to the other after which they selected a spot on the shore to keep gifts such as gunny bags with coconuts, bottles of honey, clothes, a live pig and plastic buckets. The crew then withdrew and kept vigil in a boat away from the shore. After a patient wait, they spotted three naked tribesmen, with bark-strips on their chest and carrying bows and arrows on the shore.

More tribesmen joined them and they started shooting arrows. One hit the boat making a dent, and another hit Vaidya in the thigh. Vaidya was taken to the ship for first-aid.

The doctor on the ship kept a close watch on Vaidya’s wound for signs of poisoning. The pig gifted to the Sentinelese was killed and buried on the shore, as seen in the documentary. Vaidya’s account quotes TN Pandit of the Anthropological Survey of India as saying that the Sentinelese were defiantly hostile and did not want anyone to land on their island. Nor did it seem that they had any knowledge of poison.

This extraordinary incident involving the Sentinelese was conveyed by the chief commissioner, Andaman and Nicobar islands, to the home ministry and described as “the first sighting of the Sentinels.”

(The writer is the son of the late Prem Vaidya, the documentary filmmaker)

First Published: Nov 25, 2018 00:03 IST

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