Tragedy Strikes the Onge Tribe
An Onge man with the traditional mud make-up on his face relaxing in his habitat
Eight members of the Onge tribe in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, died and 15 more were in hospitalized but recovered after drinking from a container which washed ashore on their island reserve at Dugong Creek in the Little Andaman Island. The hapless tragedy struck the Onge on 10th December, last year (2008).
The Onge numbered just 100 before this tragedy. They were devastated following the British occupation of the Islands in the 19th Century. In 1900, they numbered around 670 people.
They now, face the prospect of losing around 10% of their entire surviving population in one go. Before this blow, their numbers had been stable for several decades, thanks to decades of relentless endeavors of the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, Government of India.
It is thought that the Onge believed that the plastic can contained alcohol. Although the Onge can hunt and fish as a natural talent, many have become dependent on rations from the Islands’ administration, and some have become dependent on alcohol, surreptitiously introduced to them by the poachers that infiltrate into their territory, off and on, and ironically, by a few insensitive and careless personnel of the administration who are, in fact, posted to guard and assist their community and territory.
Consequently, four Onge women, who were widowed due to the tragedy of December last year, remarried in the month of February this year.
They married new Onge husbands in a joint tribal ceremony at Dugong Creek, Little Andaman and all the four of them have young babies.
An Onge woman with her child
By contrast, the two other isolated tribes of the Islands, the Jarawa and the Sentinalese, are still self-sufficient.
Photos & figures courtesy: Survival International, UK