It’s hard to imagine a life of complete seclusion, but there are a few places on the planet that remain untouched by technology and the advances of the modern world. Making contact and understanding the people who choose to live this way has enticed us for centuries. Curiosity, though, can come with risk…
As one anthropologist led a team of researchers towards the world’s deadliest secluded peoples, she might’ve been wondering if her careful efforts and intense training were enough to survive the encounter. She wouldn’t have her answer until it was too late to turn back…
Nestled between India and Myanmar, smack dab in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, are the picturesque Andaman Islands. But, despite looking like paradise, visitors need to approach with tremendous caution…
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The India government requires visitation permits for every form of entry. Some of the islands in the cluster are tourist hubs and access is allowed with proper documents. Others are forbidden, namely the North Sentinel Island, and for good reason!
While the indigenous tribes of the Andamans have long fascinated anthropologists, they don’t look kindly on any intrusions from the outside world — and they aren’t just giving visitors the cold shoulder…
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Visitors must approach with caution because the tribes are regarded as some of the most dangerous and violent in the world. They prefer to have no outside contact and have rejected many who tried to infiltrate their territory.
Throughout history, anthropologists carefully organized missions to visit, make friendly contact, and hopefully get the chance to learn more about these fascinating people. But there was a pretty big problem…
Any visitors, no matter how cautious or kindly intended, have been met with open hostility and extreme suspicion. Some visitors to the island have even been killed.
Getting to know them seemed impossible. But there was someone who was about to change all of that, and in the process, change our understanding of the tribe.
Doctor Madhumala Chattopadhya wanted to accomplish what so many others had lost their lives trying to do. But the path to doing just that wasn’t going to be easy for her.
As a young girl, the indigenous tribes off the coast of her home of India fascinated Madhumala. She was the top of her class and went on to study anthropology at the University of Calcutta. While hitting the books, these tribes were her focus.
In 1991, Madhumala got to live out her dream of making the first-ever recorded friendly contact. She was working as an associate of the Anthropological Survey of India. Along with a team of 13, Madhumala set out to attempt a connection no one had ever survived before.
But Madhumala knew she and her team would have to do something different to successfully engage the tribe — something other visitors hadn’t tried. So she brought coconuts!
As her team’s boats crept closer to the shore, the researchers started throwing coconuts out for the tribe as a peace offering. Not long after, some of the more curious members of the tribe waded into the water to take the coconuts.
Standing with bows and arrows ready on the shore, the tribe was skeptical of the visitors. They kept the coconuts coming, and eventually, Madhumala was able to enter the water and physically hand the offerings to the tribal members.
Another factor contributed to Mudhamala’s groundbreaking contact with the tribe: she was a woman! On her next visit in the same year, she led an expedition on land into the Jarawa tribe’s territory and made history once again.
Jarwa women spotted Madhumala, the only female member of her team, on the boat and yelled to her, “Milale chera!” It translated as “friend come here!” and broke out in an impromptu dance. She was the first woman to visit, and they welcomed her!
The tribal women approached Mudhamala and examined her hair and skin. But then she made a bold move that could have ended in complete disaster…she embraced one of the natives in a hug. By a miracle, her gamble paid off. The tribe reacted with happiness!
The tribe had never taken to an outsider like they did with Madhumala. They let her assist in chores, and even hold their children.
Nurturing an intense trust, they let Madhumala enter their huts, which was another historical first. She shared food with the tribe, and offered medical assistance. They allowed her to tend to their wounds and act as their doctor.
Despite her monumental strides in communications and anthropological discoveries, Madhumala hasn’t really been regarded as one of the great anthropologists in history. She lived amongst one of the most dangerous and mysterious tribes in the world, but her legacy remains a hidden gem for most of the world to discover.
As of early 2019, she continued to work for the central government, in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Madhumala’s texts about this secretive tribe were considered the standard of study for universities worldwide.
Times of India