Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Tsunami and the Nicobar islanders

The Tsunamis is "ancient" history now, but in researching the alleged near- Homo sapiens sapiens extinction event of the Tabo eruption I came across a web site describing the peoples of the Nicobar islands -- a group that colonized that area shortly after the Tabo eruption. The Negrito in particular represent a very ancient "race". The web site has news of how these people survived the Tsunami, but in at least one case rescue efforts have caused more pain than the Tsunami itself:

05-mar: ...While the Tsunami was in itself a traumatic experience for most, what has followed is even more traumatic. This is true especially for the inhabitants of Chowra, Bompoka and Trinket, the three islands in the Central Nicobars that were badly damaged and are now seen as unfit for habitation.

Chowra, a small flat island with a high population density and limited natural resources, had a pre-Tsunami population of 1,464, now reduced to 1,408. The relatively low number of casualties was completely unexpected. In view of the Tsunami's behaviour in Car Nicobar, the complete destruction of Chowra was initially feared. However, when rescue operations ended on Chowra on 4th January, it was found that 'only' 56 had died. No, the waves had not spared the rest of the population: most of them had been washed out to sea. But the Chowrites, sea people that they are, managed to fight the gigantic waves and swim back to land. The Chowrites are no ordinary people. Up to now, they are the only group in the Nicobars that have maintained a strong cultural identity despite outside interventions. It is known throughout the archipelago that the Chowrites have remained opposed to we1fare and development programs promoted by the Administration until recently. To the Chowrites, their identity and culture, inextricably linked to their land, are endowed with magic and has been foremost in all contact with the outside world.

For the first time, the people of Chowra have now been separated from their land. Following the rescue operations, all inhabitants of Chowra and Bompoka were moved to relief camps on Teressa island. Having spent two unhappy months there, they now wish to return to their islands and start a new life. But, unfortunately, they are not allowed to do so. In a meeting that was organized by the Administration on Teressa in early February, discussions were held with the Chief Captain of Chowra, Jonathan. The Administration urged Jonathan to stay in their new home on Teressa and tend to their plantations on Chowra, at least during the temporary rehabilitation phase. The main argument put forth by the Administration was the lack of water on Chowra. Jonathan failed to understand why this should be an issue after the Tsunami. Chowra had always faced water scarcity, no solution to which had ever been found or sought by the Administration, so why should this suddenly be an issue now? Jonathan expects nothing from the Administration. Why should he? He said that the desalinization plant that had been set up at one point worked only for a short while. It never got repaired or serviced when it broke down. His people had managed well in the past and they could do so now. Two weeks after that meeting, Jonathan, in a letter, still begged for boats 'to return to Chowra for at least 10 days to collect our left belongings ... before the [southwest] winds, because then there will be many problems once this wind starts. We have to reach Chowra before that'. When an official assessment team visited Chowra for the first time on 28th February, it was surprised to find that conditions on Chowra were much better than in most other villages/islands. Unfortunately, it had taken 2 months to realize this...

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