What we are on about

Great Andamanese couple

Great Andamanese couple, photographed by Edward Horace Man (1846-1929)

The subject of living or recently extinct traditional tribal groups and their origins is, to put it mildly, not a major presence on the internet. We are not sure why that should be so since the number of our visitors show that there is quite a bit of interest in the subject all over the world. But two decades ago we did not know that but started to collect information all the same. This web-site is the result.

A closely linked subject that has fascinated us for a long time and that is also rarely discussed outside specialist groups is the Great Human Migration which is in turn closely connected to our common origin in Africa. These subjects are linked to our third main subject: how did the modern “races” (which are strictly speaking not “races” in the biological sense at all but local variations within our single exceptionally homogeneous human race) got to be where they are today. Another question that interests us (and for which no one has yet found an answer): why are some human groups being pushed towards extinction while others are booming?

There is a lack of variation in the human genome. There are more than 6 billion of us of us swarming all over the planet, yet compared to most other species on this planet we are practically identical, genetically speaking. This is a peculiarity of Homo sapiens that is not widely known outside specialist circles but it should be, not least to counter the racist rubbish that is peddled from some quarters.

We try to describe living “primitive” tribal populations that may go back to the first migration of modern Homo sapiens out out of Africa. This includes small populations sadly heading for extinction and often barely known to science, let alone the general public. Some are the target of (sometimes) well-meant but usually disastrous attempts to bring them “up to our level of civilization” (as some Indian politicians have called the process in the Andaman islands). Too often the motivation behind such “uplifting” is not well-intentioned but designed to provide cover for an attempt to get the tribal lands for settlers. Well-meant or not, such attempts almost always end up in the cultural and physical extinction of the displaced groups. Those smaller tribal populations who do not go extinct, tend to quietly fade into the lowest social strata of a country’s general population.

The silent disappearance of ancient groups is a human and a cultural as much as a scientific tragedy. True, there are many charities and other activist organisations that are trying, with varying degrees of success, to ensure the physical and cultural survival of such groups. We are not Group_of_Andaman_Men_and_Women_in_Costume,_Some_Wearing_Body_Paint_And_with_Bows_and_Arrows,_Catching_Turtles_from_Boat_on_Watertrying to compete with them but wish them the very best of luck. What we are trying to do is to collect as much scientific data on such groups in as many fields as we can – and to publish digestible summaries of the results on this Web-site. There is a huge amount of ethnological, anthropological and other relevant data all over the world gathering dust in museum cellars and libraries. Ethnology is not a currently fashionable science, but in cooperation with molecular genetics, anthropology, archaeology and other sciences, new data and knowledge can be generated. This almost certainly will lead to completely new insights into the human condition, its past, its origins and perhaps even its future.

There is steadily growing scientific evidence that the human race has developed from pre-human ancestors in Africa over aeons, although the precise ancestral species remains controversial, of course. I t is also relatively clear (though more controversial) that our direct human ancestors did not leave that continent until relatively recently (as such things go), sometime around 100,000 years ago. The evidence for this scenario is as solid as such things can be, but it is not rock solid. Countless details still remain vague shapes in the fog, such as the role of and interractions between the many pre-human species (from Australopithecus via Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and many others to the the Neanderthals). So while the precise human ancestry beyond100,000 remains wide open, from 100,000 years onwards in the other direction we are on comparatively safer ground with a little more certainty and factual details.

We started to look for possibly still living remnant populations of the Out-of-Africa movement (also known as the Great Migration) – and found the Andamanese Negrito people on their then still little-known islands in the Andaman Sea. Indications are that they and similar populations elsewhere represent the last substantially unchanged survivors of the first expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa. What we call here (see below) the Southern Route of the Great Migration. The Andamanese on their isolated islands do not seem to have mixed much with other populations for milennia. They are not only fascinating in themselves, they are also, potentially, a major scientific piece in the much larger human puzzle that is the story of the Great Human Migration out of Africa and the development of the modern human race.

Going beyond the Andamanese, we are also trying on this Web-site to trace other Negrito and Negrito-like groups as well as any other populations, living or extinct, that may still carry traces of that great human Out-of-Africa adventure.

*Photographs sourced from Wikipedia

Next: The strange lack of variation in the modern human genome