Deforesting among Andamese Children:
Political Economy and History of Schooling
by Dr. Vishvajit Pandya
Table of Contents
3. Out of the forest into the schools - the colonial situation and the Andamanese "children"
This article was originally published 2005 in Hewlett B.S. and Lamb M.E. Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods - evolutionary, developmental and cultural perspectives pp. 385-406, Aldine Transactions, a division of Transaction Publishers, www.transactionpub.com, Library of Congress 2004007786, ISBN 0-202-30749-2.
For Andaman Islanders (Andaman Island is located in the Bay of Bengal) in spite of the shrinking forest and the increasing numbers of outside settlers, being in the forest is still important. For Andamanese, being in the forest is much like belonging to a church as conceived by Durkheim (1915:59). In this conception, church is something that makes individuals adhere to practices connecting the group, uniting the individuals by the fact that they think in the same way about the "sacred" and its relation to the world of the "profane." Much like members of a church translate common ideas into common practices, Andaman Islanders also translate their ideas about the forest into various practices within the forest. Their practice of hunting and gathering in the forest shows the Andaman Islanders' shared fundamental cultural concern, particularly in responding to the world beyond the forest. Outsiders who invade the forest are seen in much the same way as are the "profane" with regard to the church. This chapter focuses on three Andamanese ethnic groups: (1) the Great Andamanese, who were resettled on Strait Island after India's independence, (2) the Ongees of Little Andaman, who in 1952 were provided with a settlement within the reserved forest, and (3) the Jarwas of Middle Andaman and South Andaman, who are con#ned to a tribal reserve forest (see Figure 18.1 for locations). The chapter emphasizes the Ongee situation as this is where I have conducted most of my ethnographic research.
Classical accounts of the Andaman Islands (Man 1883; Portman 1899; Radcliffe-Brown  1964) relate that twelve groups of hunting and gathering Negritos shared language and customs within the cluster of islands. Today about 450 hunting and gathering individuals survive. With the exception of the Sentinels and the slowly changing position of the Jarwas, other groups of Andaman Islanders hardly practice hunting and gathering as a primary activity. All these groups make up less than 0.32 percent of the Andaman Islands' population, and are surrounded by an ever-increasing nontribal population known locally as settlers. The settlers began as small farmers and exploiters of the forest resources, but over a period of time they have become wage earners in the nearby towns. After India's independence in 1947, the Andaman Islands were incorporated as a union territory, which resulted in the formulation of a welfare policy to protect the declining tribal population. According to the 1956 Tribal Act, tribal territories were designated, and the presence of outsiders was controlled and minimized. However, the increasing number of settlers on the island has not curbed illegal encroachment involving collecting and poaching in the tribal reserved area.
Map of the Andaman islands, showing distinct tribal groups identified primarily by language division. Brown dots mark the location of Andaman Homes (ref. Radcliffe-Brown 1922). Source: The Andaman Association
Throughout the historical period of colonialism (1750-1940s), pos-tindependence, and the contemporary situation on the islands, outsiders have #gured prominently in the worldview of the Andaman Islanders living in different parts of the islands (Figure 18.1). This chapter focuses on the role of schools brought into the forest by the outsiders, forms of schooling that evolved with the drive to exploit the forest resources in tribal areas, the functioning of schools, and the impact of school among the hunter-gatherers. I intend to analyze the extraneous ideas of schooling for the children of hunter-gatherers and how it creates a dissonance in the forest, which has been systematically destroyed, while attempting to transform the children in the forest into something that is not of the world of the forest.
The Great Andamanese, who were among the earliest to be settled, and the Jarwas, whose future is still in #ux and whose circumstances are rapidly changing around them, form the two extremes of schooling and socialization. That is, for the Great Andamanese schools have been functioning for a long time, while among the Jarwas no schools have been formally introduced, but a process of Jarwas and non-Jarwas learning and socializing about each other 's values has been going on since 1999. I use the observations from the community of Ongees whom I have known since the days when they had no children's school (1983) to the days when school for Ongee children started, around 1990. Like some of the contributions in this book that have directly or indirectly focused on the acquisition of skills by hunter-gatherer children (Chapters 5-7), my concern here is to outline what schools and schooling have accomplished in different communities of Andamanese hunter-gatherers. The socialization of children in the forest as "school" and the socialization of Andamanese children in a school within the forest have had a tremendous impact on the children of the hunter-gatherers of the Andaman Islands. This is an analysis that uses ethnographic and historical accounts to understand the very idea of what Andamanese socialize their children for and what the state-designed various educational institutions accomplish among the Andaman Islanders. Politically and historically, in school children learn about society, but, in the Andamans' case, schools are a place that socializes the children for the state-conceived and -constructed society that exists outside the forest. It is the aspiration of the government-funded and welfare agency-managed schools that children of hunter-gatherers will become citizens, participating in a political economy in which individuals should be productive, and gainfully employed.
As the extraneous idea of school has played an increasingly significant role, outsiders have systematically and subtly insisted on denying Andamanese participation in their forest, which is the basis of their value system and practice for the parents of the children who continue to live in the forest but go to schools that are appropriate neither for the world of forest nor for the world outside. In Durkheim's perception, education is a social reality, much like the forest or the church, "a collection of practices and institutions that have been organized slowly in the course of time, and are integrated with all the other social institutions, and express them" (Durkheim 1956:65). As a result, the socialization of children becomes a means of instilling in them the idea of society, and the pedagogical ideals, relative to history, are explainable by social structure (Durkheim 1956:122). The function of education is thus to inculcate in the child a certain number of physical and mental attitudes that society considers should not be lacking in any of its members and certain physical and mental attitudes that the particular social group considers, equally, ought to be found in all its members (Durkheim 1956:67-70). If education is the image and re#ection of "society" (Durkheim 1951:372) how do the Andamanese in the forest educate children in the practices idealized, both physically and morally by Andamanese culture, and what impact do outsiders have on the Andamanese, who have their own notion of education and children of the forest? The colonial administration and later the postindependence government of India both had a different notion of the society in which the children of the forest had to live. This invariably implies three different models of and for Andamanese children of the forest: (1) school, where Andamanese learn about the forest, making the forest itself a school; (2) the colonialists' presentation and imposition on the parents and children of Andamans of a school that is "out of forest"; (3) the present-day school structure "put in the forest" by the Indian government. All three are based on the society or state idealizing what role an individual should have in the political economy (cf. Bourdieu 1997; Illich 1971). All three forms of "education" indicate historical shifts and become progressively collapsing structures. In the process of pulling the children out of the forest, the concern for controlling the Andamanese remains constant. Through schools, outsiders have organized the strategy and instruments to control the hunter-gatherers of Andaman forests. This is particularly evident in the ongoing production of Andamanese tribal language books that the children of forest can comprehend in order to become "productive citizens." This process outlines a progressive trajectory of the "administrators" gaining more control over the Andamanese to make them settle down. In spite of the presence of schools "outside the forest" and "within the forest," an idea of what children should become by going to school has failed to produce a productive citizen who can read, write, and count. Strangely enough, the schools have also failed to instill the socialized and idealized image of society that the forest used to instill as a school and church for the children of Andamanese hunter-gatherers.
1. Children in the Forest and the Forest at School
In the Andamanese culture children are highly valued. They are not regarded as a product of a reproductive act between husband and wife; instead the man and woman become father and mother as the spirit enters the womb of a woman in the form of food consumed by the Andamanese. It is common practice that even before the child is born the expectant parents appoint a couple to be responsible for raising the child as adopted parents. The children in the camp are always regarded as the collective responsibility of all the campmates, so much so that only the parents administer discipline but the whole camp very much indulges children and constantly looks after them. In 1983 when I first started my fieldwork among the Ongees of Little Andaman Island, for the #rst month the job I was given by the Ongees was to assist the elders in looking after the children in the campsite as the men and women went out to the forest or to the coast for their daily activities. Much of my understanding of children growing up in a so-called "traditional" pattern of socialization within the forest context is based on my #eldwork done in 1983-84.
Until the age of seven or eight the children stay back and spend time playing particularly games that develop their sense of interdependence and observation (Pandya 1992b). Children also make play out of trying to mimic adults, like playing with smaller versions of bows and arrows, tying knots, or making temporary shelters with materials on hand within the campground. After reaching the age of ten, children are encouraged to go with adults to various locations in the forest, in the creeks, and along the coast. However, this increases in duration and distance as the children grow up, and learn about the safety and dangers of being hunter-gatherers, particularly when they too might be hunted by the spirits all around them. The important value to be learned is that work is speci#c to place and is not decided by the amount of time it takes to #nish it. As a result, if the young boys went out hunting pigs in the appropriate season they would try not to return till they had succeeded, even if it took two or three days. However, the boys accompany only men and the girls accompany only women. It is not that the children essentially contribute to the actual hunting and gathering but they are trained to remain quiet as they follow the elders, carrying baskets, digging sticks, nets, or smoldering branches of wood. With children remaining quiet, a virtue expected of a good child, the adults constantly talk and show the children what to look for in the forest around them. The Ongee term for this socialization and learning, or becoming educated, is eneyebelabe. This is the way all the indexes and signs of resources required and shared are imparted to the child. For instance, various birds are pointed out, which would indicate the presence of honeycombs or fruits. The presence of various types of wood needed for various forms of material culture is shown to the children. Young girls learn where to dig for tubers and where to look for crabs.
For children, going to the forest is not just to assist in production, but is a visit to the forest as a repository of knowledge and for learning practical techniques pertaining to the forest. In order to encourage the children to come along with adults, depending on gender and the division of labor, adults often cook part of the food gathered away from the camp and serve it to the accompanying child. They then let them take part of it back to the campground to share with their siblings and cousins and to give as small treats, like betel leaves for aged relatives con#ned to the campground. As the boys and girls grow up, they form groups of teenagers who can go out without any adults. Groups are encouraged to bring in all they can from the forests. Young boys often set up their own shelter adjacent to the main camp site and cook their own meals, but girls always return to their parents' home and contribute to the home kitchen or the communal cooking area within the middle of the campground. In this way the children are educated in the forest as school, so that they grow up as well-integrated individuals who are socialized into what Radcliffe-Brown ( 1964) expressed as individuals having a sense of dependence on the collective or society. By the time teenagers are ready to perform these activities on their own, they have learn the important issue of getting resources without endangering themselves in the forest and bringing back resources to be shared within the campsite. The Andamanese forest represents society with all its articulation of relations and needs. Being in the forest is idealized for children growing up, as they learn about the forest. Life for the Ongees is so invariably and inexorably tied to the forest that it affects all social practices. It is not difficult to comprehend the paraphrase of Durkheim's notion of belonging to church for Andamanese as belonging to a forest. What was observed among the relatively unchanged life of the Ongees in 1983 perhaps was culturally true for various Andaman Islanders before they came in contact with the outside world and experienced different degrees of impact from the outside world. (Outsiders began arriving in Middle Andaman and South Andaman in 1789.)
2. History of the "hostile savage" and the "undisciplined child"
Early attempts at creating a British settlement at Port Blair, by clearing the forest, were met with great hostility and resentment by Andamanese tribal groups. The isolated location of the island, inhabited only by a hostile tribal population, made the Andamans a perfect location for a prison. By 1858 the process of clearing the forest for a penal settlement was undertaken. Captain John Campbell wrote in favor of selecting the Andaman Islands as a penal settlement that while convicts could not be prevented from escaping when working on the mainland, on the Andamans they would only be able to escape to the jungles and could not get away from the Andamans, as the savages were far too hostile to allow one to escape (Portman 1899). In fact, within six to ten months after the #rst shipload of 733 convicts, 240 prisoners were found dead in the vicinity of the penal settlement killed by native arrows. Seventy prisoners were reported to have escaped and disappeared without trace (letter no. 1079, 12 July 1859, from J. P. Walker to C. Beadon, secretary to the Government of India). Early contact with the Andamanese was characterized by dealing with the extremely hostile and unreliable tribes in the forest. Alexander Hamilton, who navigated the Bay of Bengal between 1688 and 1723, asserted that the Andamanese were cannibals and extremely violent and used to take slaves from the neighboring islands of Nicobar (1930:36-38). Andaman Islanders had a reputation for killing any sailor who landed on the islands, either through shipwreck or while in search of fresh water. In fact, they would wait in armed groups of various sizes to ambush and kill anyone who landed on islands like the Little Andamans. Colebrooke (1795) con#rmed the hostility of the natives of the Little Andamans. Records of the colonial administrator 's trips within the Andamanese forests, published in early census reports (Temple 1903), show how British "punitive expeditions" sustained and perpetuated such violent images of the outsiders for the Andaman Islanders.
Attempts to make friendly contact with "the natives" were generally unsuccessful, and were soon replaced by a pattern of gift-giving and -receiving, which involved mostly food and implements. Over a period, his led to the Jarwas being brought aboard the ships. Lieutenant Colonel Albert Fytche (1861) notes that in order to make proper observations and learn about the Andamanese, the captured natives were taken to Rangoon, but this was not very successful. This lack of success was apparently mainly due to the fact that the captives mostly adopted the captors' language, but in order to learn the language of the tribals, it was important to observe them as a larger group interacting among themselves. On board, the Jarwas could observe the clothed British naval of#cers with the same curiosity as the nontribals observed their nakedness. This interaction was reportedly characterized by the outsiders trying not to laugh as they gave gifts to establish relations, while the Jarwas were childishly amused and ran around chaotically. Often Jarwas were thrown overboard to swim back to the coast.
In addition to being characterized as hostile, they were perceived to be childlike, impressionable, unpredictable, and undisciplined. Because of their short stature, the Negrito tribal populations in other parts of insular South East Asia also have been represented as children by ethnologists and missionaries (Schebesta 1929; Stewart 1975; Skeat and Blagden 1906). The work and in#uence of Father Willhiem Schmidt is particularly interesting for seeing how Negritos in Asia were represented as children in a vision that blends Christian missionary sensibility with ethnological pursuit. As the colonial authority established itself near the region of Port Blair, the Andamanese were no longer synonymous with hostile people, but "child" became the metaphor for the Andamanese in the forest.
3. Out of the forest into the schools - the colonial situation and the Andamanese "children"
Taking a position against all previous conceptions and representations of the Andamanese, Portman, who was the of#cer in charge of the Andamanese in the 1890s, said
Often one hears the English schoolboys described as savage and after sixteen years of experience of Andamanese, I #nd that in many ways they closely resemble the average lower class English country schoolboy. (Portman 1896:362-371).
What led to this image of the Andamanese "schoolboy" was a new policy started in May 1861. All Andamanese were to be treated like children and schooling them was going to be a strategy for facilitating effective oc cupation of the Andamanese territory. Three young Andamanese boys were captured and sent to Burma for education. The object was that these Andamanese boys after receiving education and training in Burma would serve as a medium of intercourse with the tribes of the Andamans (NAI, Delhi Home Department, Judicial Branch, O.C. No 59, 18 March 1861). These boys, named Crouso, Jumbo, and Friday could not adjust to Burma and attempted to escape in a crude raft. The project of sending the boys to Burma for schooling failed and on 12 September 1861, without anything being learned, the Andamanese returned (Portman 1899:320-33). The only thing accomplished by this "schooling project" was that the returning two individuals narrated to their countrymen their newly gained experience, which started the process of the Andamanese extending friendly relations to the British authorities at Port Blair.
By 1863 Reverend Corbyn (Portman 1899:378-459) started his version of a boarding school, known as "Andaman Home," and took care of an increasing number of the islanders (Ball 1897). Andaman Homes were soon set up all around the cleared area of Port Blair and Reverend Corbyn was assisted by convicts in keeping up the growing institution of Andaman Homes. Soon these homes became a place to house various tribal captives who had broken some law, and individuals from different areas who were brought in by allurements of gifts.
At these homes there was a program of teaching English and some money was provided to the residents for clearing the forest. Corbyn's training at Andaman Home in fact created the #rst group of Andamanese interlocutors between Andamanese culture and colonial authorities (NAI, Delhi Home Department, Public Branch, O.C. Nos. 17-20, 31 July 1863, April 1864; O.C. Nos. 37-41, April 1864; O.C. Nos. 24-26, 28 July 1864). By 1865 about 150 Andamanese from different areas were regular residents of Andaman Home, a place that was part school and part prison outside the forest. What could not be achieved by sending the Andamanese to faraway places for education was now being achieved by bringing them out of the forest and training them to work in gardens, to help in the administration's negotiations with other Andamanese, and to track escaped convicts from the main prison. The appointment of a European family to provide full-time instruction to the Andamanese in "English ways" was even considered, but lack of funding made it difficult. J. N. Homfray succeeded Reverend Corbyn in 1866 and took some of the Andamanese, suitably transformed, out for enrollment in missionary schools in Calcutta, Pennang, and Rangoon. However, like the first batch of boys sent to Rangoon in 1861, it was realized that schooling of Andamanese far away was impossible. While away for schooling, many fell sick and died or acquired habits unacceptable to the authorities. By 1870 tribal boys and girls were being housed in a new home that was signi#cantly represented as an orphanage/school and managed by the wife of E. H. Man.
Apart from English and arithmetic, Indian convicts taught Hindustani. It was reported that Andamanese children after learning some English were employed as domestic help but soon their learning skills would come to an abrupt end (Census Report of 1911). The orphanage had strict regulation of children being constantly fed and rules to keep boys separate from girls, but in the classes for handicraft needlework was taught to both sexes (annual reports cited in Portman 1899:849-51). By the end of 1871 a number of matrons and teachers had to be replaced because as orphanage/school staff they had resigned in order to go back to other colonial posts for marriage, but the institution had started making money from what the Andamanese children were producing. Success was also measured in terms of the dozen or so Andamanese boys and girls who had been baptized and regularly attended church services on Ross Island. According to R. C. Temple, Andamanese in childhood were bright and intelligent but soon reached a peak in development. An adult Andamanese was now comparable to "a civilized child of ten or twelve" (Temple 1903:47-66). In spite of the schooling, disciplining them, and making them somewhat productive within the political economy of the colonial administration, Andamanese adults were considered nothing more then children of the "authority" (Nandy 1988:11-18).
During the year 1872-73 the increased participation of the Andamanese in church activities and their capacity to recite prayers opened a path for translating, transcribing, and producing texts in various dialects, including some aspects of grammar (see Figure 18.2). The language manuals produced contained various commands and orders, which the colonial officer could give to the islanders in categories like hunting, camping, and cleaning as well as a section on photography commands for the natives to sit in different ways and not move. Projects were undertaken to compile dictionaries (Man 1923; Portman 1887; Temple 1899, 1908) so that the natives could be communicated with and administered. It was in this period that the Lord's Prayer translation into Northern Andamanese dialect was completed (Man and Temple 1877) so that the residents of the Andaman Home could pray with the local chaplain. Andamanese who had practically become inmates of the so-called Homes were now #uent in conversational Hindustani and English.
1874. Andamanese photographed in Port Blair Andaman Home. Note the Choir Boys of Andamanese descent in church uniform. The European in the centre is M.V. Portman.
Source: Anthropological Survey of India and The Andaman Association
This also opened up the situation for Andamanese young boys and girls to be abused in all possible ways by the convict population on the island. In 1867 a large number of the "home" residents were found to be suffering from syphilis. This was mainly because the convicts could tempt Andamanese for sexual favors by gifts of tobacco, opium, and liquor. Authorities now realized that the morality and chastity of Andamanese girls, married or unmarried, was not protected even by being in Andaman Homes (Portman 1899: 605-606, NAI, Delhi Home Department, Port Blair Branch, B progs. No. 30, July 1876). In addition to these efforts to know and communicate with the islanders and civilize them, 1877 was marked by a peak in the number of deaths, due to an outbreak of measles in the Andaman Home, which spread beyond into the forest. In 1892, the chaplain of Port Blair wrote: "Andamanese islanders are like British schoolboys who love freedom but hate discipline, which we have instilled up to a degree through prayers!" (Annual Report, Andamans of 1892).
By 1892 the islanders, now characterized as British schoolboys, had become a twofold management problem: how to manage a hostile and fierce savage and how to deal with the native who, under British influence, had become timid and childlike. The problem of management was complicated by the rapid decline in the tribal population. Preserving the rapidly dying population was seen as the responsibility of the administration. However, change and transformation could not be denied, since the total population of the Andamanese in 1901 had declined to 1,895, implying a loss of nearly 47 percent of the people in a span of only about a hundred years. The attempt to put the Andamanese into schools made in the image of the colonial authorities to produce productive and obedient Andamanese subjects had succeeded. The British acquired the language and got reliable support from the Great Andamanese to deal with the Jarwas and the Ongees. Trained Andamanese would track escaped convicts from prison and help conduct punitive expeditions. At a very high cost, the school created a small class of native orderlies. The Andamanese Home that had functioned as a school and orphanage under the colonial power became a place for the Andamanese to lose their dignity and identity. Above all, the school outside the forest also became a source for the spread of various diseases, causing a large number of deaths in the forest.
4. Postindependent India and schools among the Anamanese
In 1914 the government of India framed a new policy toward the remaining Andamanese. One of the principles to be followed was that "the attempts to educate should be of simplest and natural character" (NAI, Delhi Home Department, Port Blair Branch, A Progs., No. 32, October 1914). In pursuance of the above policy, all Andaman Homes were closed except the one at Dundas Point, which was converted into a Great Andamanese troop of bush police to specially deal with the Jarwas in Middle and South Andaman. After the independence of India, by 1968 all the remaining 15 families of Great Andamanese of mixed decent from nontribal parentage were settled on Strait Island. They were provided with all the free rations and clothing they would need to live a settled life. Government reports (ASI 1952; Department of Social Welfare 1969) asserted that to keep the Great Andamanese alive was its most important priority. The welfare agency responsible for all the tribes on the island, AAJVS, in 1976 set up a nonformal education center on Strait Island for the Great Andamanese. Daily about three to five children come there to learn languages spoken in the mainland communities because they want to interact with their extended family members who do not understand Hindustani. The social workers' main concern is to keep their mental and physical health at a satisfactory level, for the survival of the so-called tribe. So nonformal education for the children as well as adults is ful#lled by three hours of daily television viewing in the afternoon (soap operas or cricket matches) and two hours at night (news, songs, and dance shows). The welfare agency's noble goal is to instill among the Great Andamanese a sense of pride in self-identity. However, in 1998 Lichu from Strait Island told me in a long interview:
In our community young boys want to become dancer like Michel Jaykson or play cricket all day and make money! Can the government do it for us! If I become the prime minister or make it to capital I would do it, for sure. But the problem is I have a Muslim lover and nobody likes it.
In contrast to the Great Andamanese, one finds a very different stance toward the Jarwas, who continued to resent the outsiders even in postindependence India. The attitude toward Jarwa after independence was no different from that of colonial authorities who wanted to learn some of the Jarwa language so that they could train a Jarwa in the authority's own language. The welfare agency and the Anthropological Department of India replicated the same colonial attitude of capture and educate to produce "messengers and interlocutors" between the Jarwas and the government. In June 1968 during a Jarwa raid on a village near Kadamtalla three young Jarwa boys were captured. They were taken into custody by the villagers out of revenge but the administration brought them to Port Blair jail to look after them and after a month to take them, having learned something about the world outside the forest, to their place of capture, bearing gifts. The Anthropological Survey of India studied the three Jarwa boys and found them "intelligent enough to prefer cooked food as opposed to raw fish" (Sarkar 1990). The study team (Department of Social Welfare 1969:4-5) observed that because of inadequate preplanning, the rare opportunity to establish communication with Jarwas could not be adequately utilized. It suggested that plans should be drawn up to lodge such captives in a quiet spot away from Port Blair. Arrangements should be made to conceal microphones and tape-recorders, and to work out a system for helping the captives comprehend simple Hindi words. It added that a panel of linguists should be appointed whose services could be drawn on to study the Jarwa dialect.
There was a historical basis to this policy to "capture and school" the Andamanese outside the forest. Historical records indicate that since 1827, Ongees, like other Andamanese, resisted the presence of outsiders in their forest. In January 1885, under M. V. Portman's supervision, about 11 Ongees were taken captive for what could be regarded as "deforesting" and "schooling" and brought to Port Blair. By November 1885 some degree of mutual understanding was established and the Ongees were taken back to Little Andaman Island with loads of gifts. The schooling experiment of 1885 had succeeded in establishing "friendly relations" with Ongees. By 1966 a permanent settlement at Dugong Creek was set up for the Ongees. Residential structures, storerooms, a wireless station, a power generator, and medical outposts were added and workers from the welfare agency of AAJVS were appointed. The concern was to check the declining Ongee population trend and establish some basis for the Ongees to become self-suf#cient as a settled group within the forest. As a result a coconut plantation was created for the Ongee hunter-gatherers to regularly tend. They could work for money generated from the plantation and they could hunt and gather in the forest and coastal area whenever they had time. The success of this school within the forest itself was essential, as policymakers had learned that bringing the people out for any kind of "schooling" had historically been disastrous.
5. Schools in the forest for Ongee children
For the Ongee children at Dugong Creek, in 1981 a wooden schoolhouse was made operational (see Figure below). There was a single classroom with charts and a transistor radio, and a teacher was appointed. The school-room, called baal wadi (children's yard) was to attract and serve about 18 children from 5 to 13. The plan was that the mothers would bring the children, and while they wove baskets and bags their children would form a group to learn and play under the supervision of the teacher. In the last 17 years I have followed the progress of this school and seen groups of children come and go through it. None of the Ongee children have really gone through the complete school system. The first problem was one of a language with which the teacher could impart effectively any instructions to a mixed-gender and -age group of Ongee children. Then there was the problem of how to get seven- to nine-year-olds to play together with younger children and to get boys and girls to play volleyball together and recite poetry acting out the lines in front of each other. Ongee children as well as adults never sing or dance together. It is strictly an activity divided along gender lines. In fact, men are not supposed to sing in a chorus and should be seen only with women of their own family. As a result of this cultural phenomenon, even the children from as early as age six are encouraged to participate in activities among members of their own gender and age group. Ongee mothers thought that going to school with their children took them away from gathering activities and wondered why they all had to be under the tin roof when one or two elder Ongee elders could look after the children in the camp ground equally well.
Ongee children at Dugong creek (1983), before the school was operational.
Source: Dr. Vishvajit Pandya
Soon the women gave up visiting the school, in spite of the promise that at the end of the month they would be paid for the baskets they had make in the schoolyard. The women felt that they should all be paid as soon as they finished a basket before they started on the next one. For Ongees, work is not divided into units to be done over time; they believe that work started must be #nished before they start on the next task. Failure to realize this has affected also the coconut plantation provided by the administration where the Ongees can collect a monthly salary for 30 days of work. The Ongees would report for long enough to #nish the month's work assigned by the plantation supervisor and expected to be paid even if it was not the end of the month. Similar ramifications are evident in the operation of a school among the Ongees. As the teachers' competency in the Ongee language developed enough for them to give basic commands, the children refused and showed complete apathy in repeating the Hindi words they had been told to memorize in previous weeks.
The early establishment of a settlement for the Ongees led to the compilation of an Ongee vocabulary, especially by the medical assistant ( Janardan Shukla 1970). This led to the compilation of a Hindi-Ongee list of body parts and questions about general well-being. The AAJVS added more command sentences, directly substituting Hindi word for word with Ongee terms. This limited the orientation of the Ongees toward learning Hindi. Only in 1982 (Dasgupta and Sharma 1982) was a systematic syntax of Ongee language produced. Strangely this fine work of the Anthropological Survey of India has had no impact on the practice of the Ongee language by outsiders nor has it been considered in the later production of textbooks for the Ongee school. The reason for this seems to be that the necessity of learning the language of the Ongees is to only to give orders to them and govern them, not to communicate with them. As a field worker among the Ongees, I have marveled at the fact that more Ongees understand Hindustani than the other way around. If language is politics, then among Ongees learning and teaching of language has become a political practice. Soon fresh appointments from Port Blair frequently replaced the teachers, drawing a hardship salary, in the posts among the Ongees. There were long spells with no teacher in the school, but a list of commands in the Ongee language was handed down from teacher to teacher. Teachers inherited the Ongee translations of phrases like "Go collect fire wood," "Clean the place," "Do you have any fresh meat or fish in your house?" "Give this to me!" "Do not be so quiet-Speak up loud and clear." Moreover the terms selected for the Ongee children to learn were from the world of children being raised in mainland India, such as "steam engine." For Ongee children there were no steam engines or railroad tracks in the forests of the Little Andamans. So frequently children in the seven to nine age group would never report to school. When the teacher visited the camp and asked about their absence, the Ongees would gather around and express their resentment:
Yesterday we took all the children to the forest, for seeing and listening! It is more worthy! After all even if they end up taking care of the coconut plantation and get lot of money for it they will not get paid for a long time. In the forest they learn to get things we need every day and are of use to all of us. Coconut is for you and the school is yours, not ours.
By the 1990s five boys who had been in the school off and on for about eight years had learned conversational Hindustani, as spoken on the island. They could not read or write but could draw the characters, which they had memorized, for their names. This created a gradual increase in Ongee interpreters for the administration. The Ongees also benefited from the school culturally since there are now more of them who can mediate between the Ongee community and the administration. So the boys chosen from the "school in the forest" were given a salary to assist the welfare agency (AAJVS) staff in managing the storeroom, power generator, wireless station, and plantation around the Ongee settlement.
The Ongees understood that the only function of the school was to teach the boys to "cut patterns on paper" as opposed to putting their thumb imperssion whenever they received payment for their work. At the end of the month each Ongee is paid about the equivalent of five US dollars by the government. Some individuals make more for working in the plantation or assisting the welfare agency in various operations. For the sake of record keeping, Ongees are expected to put their thumbprint on a paper as an acknowledgment of receiving the cash. This angotha chaap (thumb imprint) degree of consciousness is pretty common in mainland Indian villages where illiterate and uneducated villagers who cannot sign their name are regarded as kala akshar bhens brabar (dumb and dark as the water buffalo).
Autographical statements of two Ongee boys are very revealing as far as the impact of the school in the forest is concerned. In June 2001, Ramu was found dead in the forest of Little Andamans. Ramu was in fact the first to have been taken under the wing of the welfare agency and was practically raised in the house of a local social worker in the late 1970s. He was supposedly quite well versed in moving within the world outside the forest. The administration vaunted Ramu as the ideal "product of the school." The administration gave him a job with the island shipping authority and a place to stay in Port Blair. Here he picked up the habit of spending his wages and time drinking, and become a target of criticism by society at large. His alienation caused him to return to the Ongee community in the forest. He gave up his khaki uniform to fit into the Ongee community but none of the Ongees really accepted him, particularly when it came to his demand for a bride. Ramu's cause of death in the forest was the timber industry's mad elephant stampede. (Elephants were used for timber operations in the forest. Timber operations have stopped but some elephants have gone feral and roam around the forest, posing a problem.)
About Ramu's unfortunate death, his stepbrother said:
See this is what happens! Spending too much time with outsiders and authority-what good did it do Ramu! Just a uniform and some money. One forgets the ways of the forest, you know the streets and ships but not the forest, you even miss a big elephant, it is all a nightmare with these outsiders occupying place around and among us.
Mohan, who lives outside the Dugong Creek camp, had attended the school for a fairly long time, but while he learned practically nothing in the way of reading and writing he did learn how to understand commands and follow verbal instructions. As a result, about six years back he was appointed as a police guard for the Dugong Creek Region. He was entitled to a regular paycheck and a khaki uniform. His parents and in-laws were keen that he should not accept any posting away from Ongee settlement. Now he just gets his paycheck delivered and does none of the duties he is expected to. The authorities cannot take him off the payroll, and he has really no job to do but gets one of the highest payments of all the Ongees. However, he is sort of ostracized. In November 2000, Mohan said:
What good has happened to me! I had a uniform to wear and be in the world outside the forest. But can the world outside take me, as I am an Ongee policeman and not a policeman? For my people I am neither a policeman nor an Ongee. I make enough money to get all my requirements from the nearby market, why should I bother with working in the forest? No wonder many Ongees resent me!
Money earned in the form of wages, a uniform, and the loss of the ability to exist within the forest are common themes in the case of both Ramu and Mohan.
The school in the forest has attempted to reproduce wage earners for the distinct political economy that is outside the forest. Ongee children who have gone through the Dugong Creek school #nd themselves in a world that is neither theirs nor the outsiders'. The school for the Ongee hunter-gatherers is only a model for the society that is outside the forest. By around 1998, the administration and policymakers had begun to realize the problem. Teachers had learned enough of the Ongee language to make them comfortable in their jobs, but Ongee children had not evolved beyond just repeating Hindi words. To attract Ongee children to school and retain them, daily biscuits were distributed, but the parents argued that children should be given enough so that they could bring a portion home for sharing within the community. By 1999, Ongee children had memorized the Hindi national song and learned to stand around a flagpole singing:
Sarey Jahan se acca Hindustan hamara, Hindi hey ham watan hai Hindustan hamara
[In the whole world the best is our country of India. We are Indians and India is our country].
But when school is over, the same Ongee children run back to their shelters singing different words to the same tune:
Eneyekulla injubey ethee kuta gacheengy megeyabarotta, vuey Ongeevueye gayebarrota
[Of all the places the best is our forest, the forest is ours, and we are the Ongees of the forest].
Clearly Ongee children have learned to translate and articulate their feelings into song structures memorized by them in school. A text of the outsiders' school is translated for a different church, the forest. In spite of this the state has continued to train Ongee children, in the hope that they will become citizens of India and some day fully participate in the political economy as productive citizens. But how will this happen? An expensive government project commissioned linguists from the Central Institute of Indian Languages at Mysore to produce books that would assist the teachers as well as the Ongees at school (CIIL 1993a, 1993b). Textbook pages they produced are full of single Ongee verbs that are given as the equivalent of full sentences, failing to teach the basic concept of constructing a sentence. The Bilingual Primer (CIIL 1993b) outlines the intent to train the "monolingual" community in ideas about production and wages, and not to depend on the government dole. Interestingly it also attempts to teach Ongees to become fishermen and stop depending on the forest as hunters. Apparently this idea of what education should be and how fishing is important for the Andamanese community has traditionally undermined the Andamanese dependence on hunting in the forest. The intent behind this is to get Andamanese hunter-gatherers to depend less on the forest and more on a settled life, with a cash economy that is seen as beneficial to the nontribals on the islands (Awradi 1990:183). There is a question as to whether this will ever succeed, as the Ongees have never been provided with rights to their forestland but have come to depend only on social welfare in a steadily shrinking forest. Moreover, beyond the number three, the concept of numbers for most Andamanese is just "many."
There is a serious conceptual problem to be resolved in order for the schoolgoing Ongees to become productive in a political economy based on cash. Nothing is done to orient them to the process of making money-for them money is basically something to be collected at the welfare agent's outpost. Meanwhile, the school has trained Ongee children to be uncomfortable in both worlds, within the forest and beyond the forest. What has been insured definitely for the Ongee children is to become more obedient and willingly subservient to the authorities.
6. Schooling: a tool for transforming hunter-gatherers
From the days of colonial control of the island, when Andamanese tribal children were taken out of the forest and sent away to schools, to the establishment of schools among the Ongees in postindependent India, outsiders and the administration have learned something about the instrumentality of schooling. Historically the purpose of school was to socialize the Andamanese children in the image of the non-hunter-gatherers' idea of what a person in society is: disciplined, obedient, capable of following orders, and productive in a settled cash-based economy. However, in interacting with the Andamanese, the authorities' failure to use the group's language as the language of instruction for school and their failure to comprehend the forest itself as a school has led to a breakdown of how schools were idealized for the Great Andamanese and Ongee children.
The notion of work and learning is not something time bound and simply acquired by sitting in a mixed-gender and -age classroom. Learning for Andamanese children is based on constantly "hearing" and "observing" within the forests facts that are directly based on how to live in a forest. Qualities of hearing and seeing are much exalted among the Andamanese. Ongees in fact have two basic identities for each individual. One either belongs to a clan of eahansakwe, those who hear well (pig hunters), and eahambelakwe, those who see well (turtle hunters). Each individual is prescribed a marriage rule of exogamy making the two identities interdependent (Pandya 1993:8, 20, 23). Traditionally interdependence is fostered between the two groups by their acting as both hosts and guests (Eremtaga and Aryoto) (Radcliffe-Brown  1964:26-27).
Children have failed to be socialized within the imposed school structure. But for the outside authorities school has generated an awareness of the Andamanese language as a political tool to control the Andamanese in relation to the forest. The effectiveness of this realization particularly among the Ongees had conditioned the authorities' recent contact with the Jarwas, who resented contact with the outsiders as late as 1995. The British first contacted the Jarwas in 1790, but in the following years with assistance from the Great Andamanese of the Andaman Homes a schism was created between the Jarwas and the other Andamanese as well as the nontribals. The 1931 Census of India documents one of the earliest compilations of the Jarwa language, done in the early phase of colonial contact with the Jarwas. In this account, Bonnington reports that captured Jarwa boys were sent to a Catholic boarding school in Ranchi (Bihar) so that they would come back educated and able to assist the colonial administration. A similar report of a captured Jarwa girl who learned English appears in the 1951 Census reports. Unfortunately there are no records on what happened in later years to these individual captives who were on their way to becoming educated.
Since 1997, in postindependent India there has been no change in the intensity of the old colonial practice of distributing gifts during expeditions among the Jarwas (Pandya 1999a). This continuity of the colonial practice was seen as a way to overcome ongoing hostility from the Jarwas and the violence and resentment they had experienced at the hands of those outside the forest (Pandya 2000). With the increasing use of the road cutting through the reserved Jarwa territory, interactions between the outsiders and the Jarwas became intense and much more magnified. In spite of the outbreak of measles in late 1999, Jarwa children and youth interact with bus passengers and tourists near the side of the road. Jarwa children and occasionally adult Jarwa men and women have been successfully learning to interact with the outside world: in order to collect money from passersby they block the traffic, and they are quickly acquiring the language skills to ask outsiders for what they wanted. For the Jarwa children the roadside was just a place in the forest to observe and exploit what resources they could gain from it (Pandya 2002). But the problems of the clash between the two worlds posed a major problem for the administration. Exotic, primitive, naked savages could not themselves be placed in a tourist market as a commodity. Jarwas were becoming more and more dependent on whatever the outsider would charitably and senselessly hand them. In order to control the situation controlled by the Jarwa children, the administration's action plan included a group of linguists, anthropologists (from ASI, the Anthropological Survey of India), and welfare workers to be stationed near Kadamtalla. A school was set up for the administrators to learn the Jarwa language (CIIL 2000:vii-viii). As the Jarwa boys could be relied upon to come and collect gift items, the appointed group could make use of what Hindi the Jarwa knew to learn more of the Jarwa language. Contact with outsiders had caused a breakdown of the monolingual Jarwa community situation. The groups of linguists who had worked on the Ongee textbook (CIIL 1993a, 1993b) were commissioned by the administration to create a textbook whereby the authorities could acquire simple sentences like, "You should not come out of the forest. Stay and gather things from the forest. If you want something from outside world tell me and I will bring it to you!" (CIIL 2000:76, 80, 82). These simple instructions obviously enable the authorities to control the Jarwas. Unlike the agenda of turning the Ongees into productive cash-based individuals, with this new approach the Jarwas need to be identified and controlled from becoming dependent on the outside world. This orientation of the administration has resulted in about a dozen of its workers being stationed along the roadside to see that the Jarwa children do not come out of the forest to beg from the outsiders. Interestingly the workers along with the ASI anthropologists continue to control the Jarwas like some sort of herd of cattle, shouting the phrases from the book. The book has sections to be memorized, like how to interact with Jarwas, how to ask their name and where they are from, but to this day the administration does not know what Jarwas call themselves. "Jarwa" is a name given to the group by the historical conglomerate of what was called the Great Andamanese. Regular refresher classes are held for the welfare agencies to update their training in the Jarwa language, a version of the language not representative of the culture itself but one that is used to control individuals within Jarwa culture. The prevalent idea is to complement the achievements of seeing the Jarwas and not to really know how the Jarwas organize their world, how to communicate it to others, or how to understand the nature of the Jarwas' own learning process. The ASI recently published two books on Jarwa languages that prove my point (Senkuttuvan 2000; Sreenathan 2001). Sreenathan's work (2001) at least reveals how his contact situation limited his collection of vocabulary, but the other two works (CIIL 2000; Senkuttuvan 2000) pretend to be about the Jarwa language and culture but fall short and only demonstrate what the authorities are capable of learning and eager to learn from Jarwas. Senkuttuvan's compilation of 480 Jarwa words and their analysis (2000:2) is deplorable. Without any evidence he reduces Jarwa phonology to that of proto-Dravidian.
Much like the colonial administrators contacting the Andamanese in the early 1800s (Clark 1874; Man 1901) these linguistic anthropologists, in their effort to write about the Jarwa language and culture, have the same vocabulary as early Jarwa language publications. Treating Jarwas as childlike in their contacts with them, the linguists, anthropologists, and administrators have really no difficulty in asking the names of parts of bodies, cloth and paper, bus and trucks, and trees and fish without placing them in any kind of context and indicating their use within Jarwa culture. In fact these recent language compilations tell us more about how the authorities view the Jarwas as children. Perhaps these are the first steps of administration's schooling so that some day even the Jarwa forests would have a school to train them to move out of the forest. Administrators are learning the Jarwa language so that like the Ongee situation, the Jarwas can be disconnected from the forest life by putting the forest completely under the administration's control.
The presence of Andamanese hunter-gatherers in the forest has always been a problem for outsiders trying to access the resources of the island. In different historical periods school was regarded as a way to turn the Andamanese adults and children, metaphorically and physically, into disciplined, productive, obedient subjects. Schools were seen first to be best if set up outside the world of the forest or outside the forest area, as in the colonial period. In the postindependence phase schools were set up within the forest. But in their unstated agenda of "deforesting," the authorities are imposing a constructed, synthetic process of socialization and education, not realizing that the product of this schooling is not compatible with the church" to which the Andamanese belong. I wonder if ever any authority would like our schoolteachers to ask:
Hey, Andamanese child, what do you want to be when you grow up? Because it is possible that your forest world will not be around much longer.
Perhaps by not posing this question to Andamanese children the authorities, as in the contemporary Jarwa situation, are educating themselves to deconstruct the forest world more effectively. The language books produced among the Ongees and Jarwas are a case in point. For the Andamanese, work and acquiring knowledge are not durational constructs. The Andamanese way of work and teaching children indicates that the process of acquiring skill and knowledge has immediate and direct effects. Something remains to be learned about how hunter-gatherer children undergo schooling in the forest.
Last changed 30 March 2006