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The Vanishing People

The Vanishing People: The Onges of Little Andaman, a documentary film by Sonali Dutta, explores the nature of the relationship the nomadic Onges had with their island habitat and the succession of well-meaning administrative interventions that may have sealed their fate.

The indigenous tribes of the Andamans are said to be the purest Negrito group of people left in the world and it is yet unknown how this small group of Negritoes reached these islands and then managed to remain in physical and genetic isolation from the region. But of the four such tribes that originally inhabited these islands, it is with the Onges of Little Andaman that the administration managed to establish friendly relations. The Onges, who have not yet learnt how to make fire, give great importance to its maintenance.

All their ingenuity and skill goes towards the preserving and nurturing of the fire in their communal hut. This is only one fascinating insight into the life of this hunter-gatherer tribe, who are now in danger of disappearing.

The film visits the two macro-divisions of the tribe and meets Bada Raju and Kokegile, settled at South Bay and Dugong Creek respectively. The South Bay group were once proud sailors of their outrigger dugout canoes. With the stories of their people, the film shows how both the Onge tribes used to subsist wholly on their natural forest or sea environment.

The film also portrays growing settlements of people from the mainland and the replacement of previous forest cover with commercial plantations. Coupled with the demographic uncertainty that comes with being a group of people less than a thousand in number and the sense of inferiority imparted by the encroaching dominant culture, the cultural survival of a tribe like the Onge becomes impossible.

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