Jarawa woman returning to her forest

Today’s Human Safari

Sara Shahriari
8/31/11

Human beings on display may seem like a thing of the past, but the practice continues today, with a twist. Travel is so much easier now than it was in 1900 that visiting remote places to see isolated indigenous communities is possible. Survival International, a nongovernmental organization that promotes the rights of tribal people, recently highlighted the case of one of these “human safaris” involving the Jarawa, a group that lives on India’s Andaman Islands. Some 360 Jarawa live by hunting and gathering.

The Jarawa have a long history in the Andaman Islands—historians estimate they arrived there more than 50,000 years ago, migrating out of Africa. Survival International’s senior campaigner for Asia, Sophie Grig, says that when British colonizers arrived on the islands in the 1850s the Great Andamanese tribes that befriended them were quickly decimated by disease, their numbers dropping from around 5,000 at that time to just 50 today. In contrast, the Jarawa avoided settlers and mixing with outsiders until the 1990s, when they made limited con- tact with nearby settlements.

Though the Indian government has banned tours to observe the Jarawa, a road that runs through their land has been used by tour operators and taxi drivers who lure the Jarawa close to cars by offering them food. Grig says tourism threatens the Jarawa in many ways. Like their Great Andamanese neighbors, they may have little resistance to illness introduced by outsiders.

In other examples of human safari, Grig points to the Padaung women in Burma and Thailand, who wear rings that elongate their necks and live in villages set up for tourists, and guides in West Papua who say they can take visitors to uncontacted tribes.

Tourism can have benefits for indigenous tribal communities, but Grig says that requires the communities themselves to control the tourism. “If people have had a lot of contact and have therefore developed immunity to diseases then they may be in a position to invite tourists to come into their land and learn about their way of life,” Grig said in an e-mail from Survival’s office in London. “However, unless this is controlled by the tribal people themselves under their own terms then it is often exploitative, with the tribal people ending up with very little in return for the intrusion into their lives.”

Survival International’s release on tours through Jarawa land click here

For more information on the road through Jarawa lands click here

For more information on the Jarawa and the Andaman Islands, check out Andaman Association, Lonely Islands—The Andamanese, at Andaman.org

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