Sanjib Kumar Roy, Reuters
Port Blair: The last survivors of the ancient Great Andamanese tribe expressed outrage on Friday at their treatment by India, after not being invited to a function to mark the 148th anniversary of a battle against the British.
Once a tribe of around 10,000 hunter-gatherers who lived in the forests of India’s remote Indian Ocean Andaman islands, the Great Andamanese were nearly wiped out on 17 May 1859 in a battle with British forces.
Disease killed many of the survivors, and the tribe dwindled to just 19 members in 1965. Today, there are 54 Great Andamanese, who mostly live on an island reserve.
On Thursday Indian officials commemorated the battle in an annual ceremony, placing floral wreaths on a memorial in the islands’ capital Port Blair and making speeches to honour the tribe — sadly in the absence of most of the descendents.
“We are neglected by everyone,” Surmai, the queen of the tribe, told Reuters on Friday.
“The authorities did not invite us and we also do not care about them,” she said. “We could have gone on our own, but our pride came in the way and we were hurt.”
The Great Andamanese are one of four Negrito tribes living on the archipelago, which lies more than 1,200 km (750 miles) off India’s east coast. They are thought to have migrated there from Africa tens of thousands of years ago.
Surmai’s daughter Buro works as a police constable in Port Blair, while four other members of the tribe have government jobs, but the rest survive on government relief on a reserve on Strait Island.
A teenage son and another daughter of Surmai were brought to the ceremony by a teacher at a summer holiday centre they attend, but were not acknowledged by the bureaucrats.
“It is shocking that the tribe was not invited on their day, but India has never tried to understand them or their culture,” said Samir Acharya, who runs the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology.
Bureaucrats spoke at the function about how the tribe united and covered themselves in war paint to battle the British with bows and arrows. But organisers admitted the tribe had not been invited, without offering any explanation.