Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Monday, 2 February 2009

Tribeswomen remarry in Andamans

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

A young Onge mother (file photo)
The Onges are one of the oldest tribes in the Andaman Islands

Officials in India's Andamans Islands have arranged remarriages for at least four Onge tribeswomen, it has emerged.

The move is aimed at halting the decline in the Onge population. Remarriage is rare in the tribe.

The Onges numbered just 100 until eight of their men died in December after mistaking toxic chemicals for alcohol.

The tribe is one of the oldest in the Andaman Islands. Anthropologists say the Onges' presence there dates back between 30,000 and 50,000 years.

'Consent obtained'

Tragedy befell the Onges in early December when some members consumed a toxic chemical that had washed ashore, mistaking it for alcohol.

Eight men died, despite the attentions of medics who were flown in to help them. Thirteen others fell sick.

"Since then, we have been trying to pair off some of the women who lost their husbands in the liquor tragedy," SPK Sodhi, secretary of tribal welfare in the Andaman administration, said.

"The Onge chiefs were persuaded and their consent was obtained for the remarriages," Mrs Sodhi said.

At a weekend ceremony, four Onge women, all young mothers carrying infants in their arms, were married off to Onge men - two widowers and two others unmarried.

The ceremony took place at Dugong Creek in the southern Andamans where the Onges live.

A feast was arranged with a live pig and gifts were given to the couples.

Mrs Sodhi said a similar wedding would be arranged soon for three more Onge widows and an unmarried teenage girl.

"Our tribal welfare officers are trying to make the right matches in consultation with the tribal chiefs," she said.

Anthropologists and environmentalists blame the Andaman administration for the dwindling number of tribes such as the Onges, Jarawas, Sentenelese, Great Andamanese and the Shompens. They are believed to be among our earliest ancestors.

Critics say new roads have opened the deep forests where these tribes live and they have been exposed to Indian food and even sex with outsiders, which has damaged their fragile immunity.

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