Shompen of Great Nicobar Island: Unfolding Ethnographic Myth

Journal of the Anthropological Survey of India, 66(1-2) : (35-48), 2017

Shompen of Great Nicobar Island: Unfolding Ethnographic Myth

Amit Kumar Ghosh and M. Sasikumar
Anthropological Survey of India, Andaman and Nicobar, Regional Centre, Port-Blair

Abstract
The Shompen are one of the least studied Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PTGs) in the world. This shy and very little known tribal community reside in dense tropical Rain forest of Great Nicobar Island of Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands. The Shompen habitat is also an important biological hotspot and it comes under two National Parks and one Biosphere Reserve namely Campbell Bay National Park, Galatea National Park and Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve. The exact population of Shompen is unknown till today. They are semi-nomads and their main sources of livelihood are hunting, gathering, fishing and horticultural activities. Though few sporadic studies on some selected groups of Shompen are available, the ethnographic information on Shompen is till scanty. Much of our understanding of the community is based on the narratives of the Great Nicoberese tribe, their immediate neighbour, and the sporadic reports by early travellers, academics and the imaginary stories based on hearsays as told by local people, who have settled in this island during different periodsof last century. All these together made the identity of the community an ethnographic mystery. Lack of adequate ethnographic data makes it impossible for an ethnographer tobreak this myth. There is often a gap between what we scientifically observed and whatwe heard of about this community. The recently issued Andaman and Nicobar Islands Shompen Policy, 2015 admits this very fact and reasserts “the need to address variousgaps in our understanding of this somewhat less known community”. In the present paper an attempt has been made to unfold the ambiguity in our understanding of Shompen by presenting ethnographic data based on intensive field work among different groups of Shompen. Efforts have also been made to present the
emic view of Shompen on their socio-cultural milieu with special reference to their group dynamics, territory and territoriality.

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