Knock your butt back to the stone age

Noone ever said technological progress was either monotonic or pareto optimal. This old, but somehow overlooked article from MSNBC gives us one fascinating case – a group of island dwellers right smack in the path of last December’s tsunami who nevertheless emerged with most of their, uh, possessions, pretty much intact –

PORT BLAIR, India – Two days after a tsunami thrashed the island where his ancestors have lived for tens of thousands of years, a lone tribesman stood naked on the beach and looked up at a hovering coast guard helicopter.

He then took out his bow and shot an arrow toward the rescue chopper.

It was a signal the Sentinelese have sent out to the world for millennia: They want to be left alone.

The Sentilese and their close cousins the Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, and Shompens are Stone Age throwbacks who live on an island chain in the Indian ocean. Despite being just north of quake’s epicenter, the tribes appeared to have survived the tsunami relatively intact. The secret to their survival? Living close to the land perhaps –

…Government officials and anthropologists believe that ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the five indigenous tribes on the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar islands from the tsunami that hit the Asian coastline Dec. 26.

“They can smell the wind. They can gauge the depth of the sea with the sound of their oars. They have a sixth sense which we don’t possess,” said Ashish Roy, a local environmentalist and lawyer who has called on the courts to protect the tribes by preventing their contact with the outside world.

…The tribes live the most ancient, nomadic lifestyle known to man, frozen in their Paleolithic past. Many produce fire by rubbing stones, fish and hunt with bow and arrow and live in leaf and straw community huts.

Ashish Roy seems to credit Jedi powers for saving them from the tsunami but I’m inclined to an explanation more akin to Gilligan’s Island. Not having to worry about projectile 2×4′s, getting trapped in concrete structures, or being hit broadside by an automobile swept up in the currents probably contributed mightily. Not to mention the lucky break that the island did not end up submerged in its entirety.

I suppose there’s a certain Romance to the idea of loincloth-clad, nomadic villagers living lives uninterrupted by Blackberry’s, jet travel, designer clothing, vaccines, reliable food sources, and the like. Still, I’m reminded of a Desi dude I knew in school who hated the idea that “fate” had consigned him to someday taking over the hotel business his father had built. Ha! If he only knew that over here, we’ve got desi’s relegated to the same muddy fishing holes their great (x100) grandfathers first pioneered. Talk about a future pre-ordained.

The Indian government has taken a sort of Star Trek-inspired Prime Directive approach towards the tribes –

The government has banned interaction with the tribes, and even taking their pictures is an offense. Many tribe members have visited Port Blair, capital of the Indian-administered territory, and a few Great Andamanese and Onges work in government offices.

Outsiders are forbidden from interacting with the tribesmen because such contact has led in the past to alcoholism and disease among the islanders, and sexual abuse of local women.

“They have often been sexually exploited by influential people — they give the tribal women … sugar, a gift wrapped in a colored cloth that makes them happy, and that’s it,” said Roy.

Heh, perhaps Captain Kirk was desi afterall.

[previous SM coverage of the Andamans and Onges here]

14 thoughts on “Knock your butt back to the stone age

  1. Some video footage of these tribes can be found here.

    As much as I hope that they be left alone, I’m afraid the Indian government will prove just as inadequate in that task as they are in dealing with its modern-age citizens.

  2. From Coppola’s “Gardens Of Stone”:

    “I saw a photo, one of our choppers coming back with arrows in it! How do you beat a helicopter with bows and arrows? “

    “How you gonna beat an enemy that fights choppers with arrows? “

  3. Looking at these groups of people gives me hope that all is not lost, or if it is, we now have an idea of who shall inherit the earth once our tech-savvy asses are buried alive in a freak mudslide on Rt. 78.

  4. Heh, perhaps Captain Kirk was desi afterall.

    That…was….alowblow! (said in Kirk-voice)

  5. Its funny but I remember some newspapers commenting on the lifestyle of these tribes and saying they were “uncivilised”.

    Funny…how we call ourselves civilised with all our wars and corruption.

    But then perhaps that itself is the hallmark of a truly developed civilisation.

  6. Some New Orleans residents did this to rescue helicopters after Katrina as well, except with rifles and .38s instead of bows. I surmise this was done out of crack/heroin/drug withdrawal and/or decaying mental health, yet they were considered despicable assholes by the world, and not defenders. Again, some in the same city were considered “looters” while others were merely “gatherers.”

    Just pointing out how we judge different people in similar or the same circumstances.

  7. I’ve read about these island tribes off Sumatra. The ones that have been contacted have disintegrated while the ones being left alone have maintained their culture.

    That may be axiomatic, but it raises interesting issues about whether they have the right to select their ancestral culture or “join the human race.” Clearly if they’re offered the choice, there will be no choice. Our influence will overwhelm them.

    And obviously they are a part of the human race. And not just for themselves, as they certainly play a role in our lives and imaginations, however little we attempt to play in theirs.

  8. ” I surmise this was done out of crack/heroin/drug withdrawal and/or decaying mental health, yet they were considered despicable assholes by the world, and not defenders. Again, some in the same city were considered “looters” while others were merely “gatherers.”

    Just pointing out how we judge different people in similar or the same circumstances.”

    Uh… no, try it was different people in different circumstances. Comparing modern day men and women in New Orleans to a pre-historic tribe in the Indian Ocean is sloppy analysis. Unless you think that their shared black skin was enough commonality to warrant your statement.

  9. Comparing modern day men and women in New Orleans to a pre-historic tribe in the Indian Ocean is sloppy analysis. Unless you think that their shared black skin was enough commonality to warrant your statement.

    There are many many more similarities than differences (both biologically and socially) when comparing humans in modern society and the people from these tribe. It is sometimes refreshing to realize that….I think this was Maitri’s point.

  10. there was an interview on the web by one of the sisters of the Neville brothers who was explaining that some of the shooting in NO was done to get attention to people who were being passed over by helicopters. the sister also said that those young guys were the ones going to the stores to get diapers and forumla for the little kids. from the interview it seemed like she was eye-witnessing that

  11. There are many many more similarities than differences (both biologically and socially) when comparing humans in modern society and the people from these tribe. It is sometimes refreshing to realize that

    Thanks, vurdlife, this was exactly my point. To reiterate: black people in New Orleans shooting at rescue helicopters were considered evil, while similar activity half a world away by tribals is looked on as defense. Again,

    In that light, KXB, your remark about their shared color, which did not cross my mind and which I happen to have in common with both of these people, is sloppy.

  12. I lived in Tokyo during the Kobe quake. People were throwing rocks at the news helicoptors to get them to fly away because their noise drowned out the sounds of the voices under the rubble.

  13. i think the fact that the sea disappeared for a fairly long time , was a major indicator to run to higher ground this was obviously lost to the modern peoples in Thailand as they stood and watched

    these tribe people would off had built in instincts to get the hell out off there plus possibly story’s of the sea disappearing past down for thousands off years

    and taking note off wild life behavior is also credible i remeber the last solar eclipse at Cornwall i noticed all the seagulls flew out to sea when the sky went dark