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Tsunami: Shompens carry on with life
Subhra Priyadarshini in Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar Islands) | December 21, 2005 12:52 IST
Shompens, one of the last surviving aboriginal tribes in the tsunami-battered Andaman and Nicobar islands have no clue about the whereabouts of nine of their kin after the tsunami, but the devastation in 2004 at the archipelago seems to have left not much impact on these happy-go-lucky nomads.
They still do not like to spend nights away from their forest dwellings, keep bringing forest produces to cooperatives formed by the local administration and are content with whatever they get in barter, largely unaware of the media glare they were subjected to post-tsunami.
"Nine of the total 331 shompens are suspected missing in the tsunami in the Great Nicobar Island. But all this talk about psychological trauma and anxiety does not apply to this peace-loving primitive tribe living in deep forests. The tsunami was of no consequence to them," says Vivek Pandey, assistant commissioner of Campbell Bay, the headquarters of the island.
Sitting in his office in the southernmost landmass of India, just 125 km from Sumatra, he rattles off figures -- four shompen tribals confirmed as missing by acquaintances and five others who have not visited their relatives since the tsunami.
Tribal Welfare Officer Shabnam, the sole contact person between the administration and the shompens, knows the missing by their names. "Ketos and Akuan, teenaged boys from the Kopen Heat area went missing in the tsunami, so did 22-year-old Choin from Chingeh and Chuaala, a small girl child of about five from Pilobhabi," she says marking the areas where they were last reported in red on a map.
Five others -- four from one family- and a 29-year-old man Qoitai also remained untraced an year into the tsunami.
The precision with which every small detail about the tribals has been recorded on track sheets speaks volumes about the close vigil they are kept in.
"We have to be very careful about them as they mean a lot to the islands' exotic legacy," says Shabnam.
For instance, everyone in the 'Shompen Shelter' in Campbell Bay knows the story of Mug, his wife Eung and their two children Kosum and Kurat, residents of the Pillobhabi island. They were last seen at a place called 37 km East West Road.
"Mug's brother Katayo told us that they were regular visitors to his place before the tsunami, but never came back after that," Shabnam says.
Pandey is happy with the way the shompens are taking to him, despite his brief maiden posting to Campbell Bay since August.
"They come to me in groups for their regular allocation of rice, pulses, salt and matches, many of them properly clothed and not naked like they earlier used to be. It is amazing that they have no visible after-effects of the disaster," he said.
He is also ecstatic about a young girl, the first among shompens to have studied upto standard five at a local school.
"She is married and has a kid. But we are willing to fund her education as she will set an example among aboriginals," he said.
The tribals are now gearing up for Christmas, a festival they celebrate with the Nicobarese in the island. "Look at the dhoop (forest incense produce) they brought us last night. We pay them Rs 100 per kg as against the market price of Rs 50. This keeps them going," he said.
The water-logged island is, however, yet to shake off the effects of the tsunami. The 35 km road which connects it and stretches to the southernmost tip Indira Point is only navigable for 15 km.
Major Kailash Nagarajan, who has been supervising the rehabilitation work in the island post-tsunami says, "Reconstruction of this island to its original state will take about 10 more years. Just the jetty will take another year to be functional. The logistics of this remote place are a severe setback."