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A&N tribes scared to leave jungles

Many of those who survived the tsunami have refused to leave the forests, which they see as their only protection against an angry sea.
PTI | By Reuters, Car Nicobar
UPDATED ON JAN 03, 2005 07:06 PM IST

When the tsunami struck, the tribal people in Car Nicobar Island fled deep into the jungle.

Eight days later they are still there, surviving on coconuts, bananas, wild berries and potatoes.

Hundreds of their friends and relatives perished as the giant waves washed over the flat island on December 26.

Many of those who survived are refusing to leave the thick forests, which they see as their only protection against an angry sea.

"There is not much food to eat there, but they are too scared to come down," said Zainuddin, a survivor visiting a relative in a hospital in Car Nicobar, which took the brunt of the tsunami that slammed into the tropical paradise.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which lie 1,200 km off India's east coast and 500 km west of Thailand, are home to several primitive tribes of Mongoloid and Negrito origin, some so isolated they are still stuck in the Stone Age.

The Sentinelese, Shompen and Jarawa number in the few dozens or few hundreds.

Hunter-gatherers, they dress in tree bark or leaves and arm themselves with spears, bows and arrows.

Fiercely hostile to outsiders, the Sentinelese fired arrows at a military helicopter that flew over their island reserve to check on their welfare and drop relief supplies.

"That means, I guess, they are okay," said one local police officer.

Officials say most of these aboriginal groups probably escaped the tsunami either because they were scattered in the jungles or their islands were not hit — but there has not been any real survey.

At least 5,000 people are feared to have died in the emerald Islands, mostly Nicobarese, the largest tribal group who were living in villages along the coastline.

The largely Christian Nicobarese are much more exposed to modern culture than other tribes, and have begun cultivating coconuts, yams and bananas in recent decades.

Almost all of Car Nicobar's 15 coastal villages were wiped out, the jetty destroyed, and a large part of the air base reduced to rubble.

Some 2,000 people are living in relief camps set in banana plantations in Car Nicobar, but military officials said there were many more in the interiors who urgently needed help.

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