| The copper bust of Indira Gandhi which was retrieved from Indira Point after it was submerged by the tsunami lies in Campbell Bay. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Campbell Bay (Great Nicobar), Dec. 20: Shompen Mug is probably dead. So are his wife and two children and five others from his tribe.
When the sea roared in that fateful morning after Christmas last year, it probably wiped out several members of one of the world’s most primitive and exotic tribes ' the Shompens.
After keeping the news under wraps for almost a year, the authorities at Great Nicobar Island have finally declared that nine Shompens, including Mug, the leader of a group, are feared dead.
“The Shompens were reported missing from various points off Campbell Bay in January this year and we immediately started our search operations but could not meet with any success all these months,” said Vivek Pandey, the assistant commissioner of Great Nicobar Island.
The Shompens, a nomadic people who live in the dense jungles of Great Nicobar in multiple groups, number a little over 350 now and are listed as one of the most-endangered primitive tribes in the world.
Along with the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and the Sentinelese, they form the five most exotic tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar group of islands. Gentle by nature, they still depend on hunting, gathering fruits and honey to survive.
Officials learnt that Shompen Mug along with his wife, two children and another Shompen, all of Mongolian breed, were last seen before the tsunami at Pillow Bhabi, about 37 km away from Campbell Bay. Four other Shompens were also reported missing from Pillow Bhabi and places like Chingen Head and Kopenheat, all several kilometres away from Campbell Bay.
The worried administration then decided to engage an expert. Shabnam, a tribal welfare expert who was in Strait Island looking after the Great Andamanese, was summoned to Campbell Bay.
“I started looking for them and also got the other Shompens to search for the missing group, but they seem to have simply vanished. We have now lost all hopes of ever seeing them again,” Shabnam said.
The Andaman administration had for months denied that some of the tribes were missing.
“I was with 14 Great Andamanese when the tsunami struck at Strait Island, but we managed to escape,” Shabnam said. “The missing Shompens were, perhaps, not so lucky.”