Controversy erupted on Wednesday, after the release of a video showing semi-naked Jarawa tribal women in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands being forced to dance in front of tourists in return for food.

The video, released by British weekly The Observer, apparently shows a local policeman accepting a $200 bribe to take foreign tourists into the Jarawa reserve and order the natives to dance for them.

The act and the video were condemned by India's Tribal Affairs Minister, V. Kishore Chandra Deo, as obnoxious and disgusting. He told the Press Trust of India (PTI) an inquiry had been ordered.

The Jarawa Tribal Women Dancing Video

People of Andaman

The population of the Andaman Islands can be broadly categorized into two groups - indigenous or aborigines and immigrants or settlers. The aboriginal population of the Andaman consists of four tribes - Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and Sentinelese.

According to various reports, the current position and future of these four distinct Negrito tribes is alarmingly demoralizing, due to an all too sudden contact with the modern world.


Jarawa on the Andaman Trunk Road which cuts through the their reserve, putting them at risk from diseases to which they have no immunity. © Alberto Caspani/Survival

The illegal Andaman Trunk Road brings in tourists and other outsiders and risks the introduction of diseases to which the Jarawa have no immunity. © Salomé/Survival

In 2010, Survival International, an NGO, exposed a scandal that involved tourists using an illegal road, known as the Andaman Trunk Road, to enter the Jarawa reserve. Tour companies and cab drivers allegedly attracted the tribal people with biscuits and sweets.

Great Andamanese

According to a Govt. of India report, the Andamanese paid the heaviest toll, on account of their contact with early settlers of the islands.

In 1858, when a penal settlement was started in present-day Port Blair, their numbers were conservatively estimated to be about 3,500. In 1901, their strength dropped to 625. In 1971, they were found to be only 24 in all. Their numbers have since increased, albeit very slowly; there were 26 in 1981 and during the 2001 vensus, 43 Andamanese were counted.

The Great Andamanese were originally 10 distinct tribes, including the Jeru, Bea, Bo, Khora and Pucikwar. Each had its own distinct language. They are now collectively known as the Great Andamanese.

Among the ten tribes, the Bo was the last to come into contact with the British; they did so just before the 1901 census. While hundreds of Great Andamanese were killed in conflicts with British settlers, many were captured and kept in the Andaman Home set up by the British.

Many people of the tribe reportedly died from disease and abuse in the home, while the remaining ones were moved to the small Strait Island in 1970 by Indian authorities.

The last member of the Bo tribe, 85-year-old Boa Sr., died in February last year. She was the last speaker of Bo, one of the ten Great Andamanese languages.

Listen to Boa Sr Singing in Bo:


The Onges, who call themselves En-iregale, meaning perfect person, are presently concentrated in a settlement called Dugong Creek, on the Little Andaman Island.

The Onges also suffered grievously at the hands of colonizers and early settlers. In 1901, their number was estimated at 672; the 1961 census counted only 129, the 1971 counted 112 and the 1981 count sank to 97. Fortunately, since then there has been some increase. The 1991 census counted 101. Today, following another drop in 2001 (96 were counted), there are an estimated 100 Onges left.

The Onges believe men cannot marry until they have killed a wild boar. According to their complaints, outsiders are hunting all their pigs... a fact contributing to an already low birth rate among tribal members.


In the Aka-bea dialect, the word Jarawa means the other people or strangers, a term which is believed to have been given to them by the Great Andamanese. The Jarawa people have now confined themselves to forested areas along the west coast of the South and Middle Andaman Islands, which are known as the Jarawa Reserve.

Any census of this tribe was impossible till 1981. Even an estimate of the strength of Jarawas in these circumstances baffled authorities; the population count swung wildly between 1951 and 1991. In 1991, 89 were counted.

In August 1998, the Jarawas were reported to have suddenly become extra-friendly and sought to establish contact with other people on the islands. During the 2001 census, the details of the Jarawas were collected through the interview and observation method. In all, 241 Jarawas were counted that year.

The Jarawa people hunt pig, lizards, fish with bows and arrows, in addition to gathering seeds, berries and honey. They live in small groups of 40-50 people in a nomadic setting.


The Sentinelese are believed to be an off-shoot of the Onge - Jarawa tribe but because they have remained isolated from other tribes for years, they have grown up as a distinct ethnic group.

The tribe lives on its own small island - the North Sentinel. Unlike other tribes, the Sentinelese do not like to make any contact with outsiders. They attack anyone who comes near their homes.


The people of North Sentinel Island know only too well what dangers outsiders can bring. © Christian Caron – Creative Commons A-NC-SA

Like the Jarawa, the Sentinelese tribals are also hunters and fishermen. They live in long communal huts with several hearths and use outrigger canoes to travel the seas around their island, according to a report by Survival International.

During the 1991 census, their headcount was 23. A joint expedition was conducted, between Feb. 23 and Feb. 24, 2001. The first batch identified 31 Sentinelese, while the second batch counted 39, consisting of male and females adults, children and infants.