Tangun, Apay, Raja, Uta, Onia, Tetay, Telo, Telnay, Eda, Tahay, Iidam, Owo, Onokay, Yaday, Ueo, Lula, Pilu, Kilda, Bapa, Tanisha, Durayt, Tangatay, Takulu, Etalay, Ahay, Utchu, Telo, Tanisha and Pilo – these are just some of the names of people from the Jarawa tribe, pictured in Alexandre Dereim's important documentary, 'We Are Humanity.'
The Jarawa tribe are the "last descendants of the first modern humans". They left Africa 70,000 years ago and have been living in peaceful seclusion in the Adaman Islands off the coast of India ever since. The Jarawa are the last of the Afro-Asian peoples of the Adaman islands, and there are now only 420 left.
Words cannot describe the serenity of the Jarawa people – however, serenity does not imply simplicity! Many cruel myths portray tribes such as the Jarawa as simple, gormless savages. This damaging stereotype is instantly laid to rest on beholding the wisdom, skill and dexterity of the Jarawa. From carving delicate and perfectly balanced bows, to shooting fish and game with razor-like precision, to craftily stealing honey from the bees, these people possess skills which we have sadly lost. However, it is not their physical abilities but their social cohesion, pragmatism, respect for nature and peaceful life philosophy that really flips the script, making us look like the savages.
Where we spend all day on our phones, isolated, anxious, depressed, self- medicating with technology or alcohol, and consuming far more than the environment can sustain, the Jarawa spend their time smiling, singing, enjoying each other’s company, building, foraging, hunting, fishing and playing in the sea. They have no religion. They do not believe in the after-life. There are no social hierarchies. They live in the here and now, enjoying the beauty of being alive.
This ancient wisdom is something that we seem to have forgotten – and look at the results. A few miles away, in an Indian town, we see slums along the river, plastic floating in the water, dirt and rubbish everywhere, noise and pollution. If the proof is in the pudding, then clearly the Jarawa are far superior to us.
These sentiments are echoed by film director, Alexandre Dereims, who risked being sent to jail for seven years in his quest to meet and capture the lives of the Jarawa. Dereims lived with the Jarawa for days at a time, going back again and again over a period of some years. His camera captures never-before-seen footage of the Jarawa people – their daily lives, their interactions, how they hunt, where they sleep and their social customs.
The Jarawa sleep on smooth flat green leaves weaved together on the jungle floor. They hunt fish using spears, and wild game such as dear using bow and arrows. They used to eat pigs, but poachers have stolen most of the pigs, so now they have to make do with deer. They are master craftsmen, carefully whittling bowls, spears and other implements. They don’t wear very many clothes, and the children run around completely naked, free to run and play together without any shame or social stigma. The Jarawa women make beautiful head pieces by stringing together hundreds of tiny green plants to make green frothy hats. They also decorate each others faces with clay, scratching the clay to make beautiful patterns on their skin.
Interactions with the neighbouring Indian population have not been positive: Tourists pay a lot of money to go on disgusting ‘human safaris’ and there have been upsetting reports of sexual exploitation and cruelty towards the Jarawa. Because of their isolation from other humans, the Jarawa are extremely vulnerable to diseases such as HIV, making contact with the outside world extremely dangerous, according to a report by the United Nations. Their land is frequently trespassed by poachers who steal all of their pigs, which has now led to a food shortage for the Jarawa, who have had to turn to other means of sustenance.
Worryingly, instead of moving to protect the Jarawa and their land, the Indian government is seeking to put further restrictions on the Jarawa and force the Jarawa children into state-run schools to ‘educate them’. But efforts to integrate the Jarawa will ultimately fail because the Jarawa prefer their own way of life, and THIS SHOULD BE RESPECTED.
“We don’t like your world. There are too many people. There is no peace. We want to remain as we are. We love our people. We love our jungle. We cannot love your world.”
- Apay, 'We Are Humanity'
The Jarawa live in harmony with nature and with eachother. They are non-religious and practise gender equality. Efforts to corrupt them in the past have been unsuccessful – many outsiders have approached the Jarawa with gifts in an attempt to buy their cooperation. But the Jarawa do not like alcohol, or chewing tobacco or other such things. They see it as dirty and bad for them (how true!).
"We don't like people from the outside world. They are bad."
- Uta, 'We Are Humanity'
As more pressure is put on the Jarawa people to conform to the Indian government, and their land becomes a target for poachers and urban development, it is important that the international community speak out in support for the Jarawa and their wish for autonomy. Dereims's film is an important piece to this puzzle.
Dereims feels so strongly about the Jarawa, that he has started his own campaign to raise awareness of their situation. Please take the time to visit his website, and sign the petition to insist that the Indian government protect the Jarawa people.
After 'We Are Humanity' finished, Dereims himself came forward to answer some questions. His closing words summarized the beauty of the Jarawa people and the importance of respecting their way of life.
“This was a life-changing experience for me. These people are the happiest, the cleverest, the most beautiful people…What they have, we have inside every one of us. But in our world, we can’t show this; we are too scared to show our love. “
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