First Out of Africa

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First Out of Africa

On a cluster of islands deep in a Bay of Bengal live a group of people who have hidden away from the modern world. For centuries they fought off anyone who tried to intrude. Marco Polo called them cannibals. Their origins are a mystery. Where they came from, how long they have been there, who they are... no one knows. But could these islanders hold the key to the mystery of our own origins? An expedition sets out to the Andaman Islands to unravel the secrets of the people whose past could solve the riddle of human evolution.

The ancient tribes of the Andaman's have always mystified explorers. They live in the heart of South-East Asia, yet are very small and very dark-skinned. They look like African pygmies. How or when they came to these islands is a puzzle. It is thought they may have been washed ashore there hundreds of years ago from a slave ship, but new evidence suggests another explanation. When biochemist, Dr. Erika Hagelberg, extracted DNA from Andaman hair samples gathered a hundred years ago she realized that the Andaman islanders could be far more important than anyone have ever imagined.

She had discovered what seemed to be a group of hunter-gatherers caught in a time warp. Believing that the Andaman islanders could even be the living ancestors of modern mankind, she set out to solve the mystery of their origin. She realized their past could be a vital link to understanding the evolution of modern man.

Biochemist Erika Hagelberg has been involved in a number of high-profile forensic identification cases, but this story begins when she came across a huge collection of hair samples gathering dust in a drawer. They have been brought back from the Andaman Islands by the pioneering anthropologist Radcliffe Brown in 1908. Over the centuries explorers have collected tons of body parts which lie forgotten in museum stores.

Until techniques for extracting DNA from bones and hair were developed they appeared completely valueless. When Radcliffe Brown visited the islands early in the 20th century he brought back an enormous amount of material. But even he never solved the mystery of how the people who resembled African pygmies had ended up in Asia.

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  • Jack1952

    Good video. I would like to see the results of those DNA samples and what they would imply.

  • Rachel Smith

    so very interesting,I feel so badly that societys come along when a place is populated and do not see it as belonging to those native populations and believe they have the right to modernize and "civalize" it

  • chard01

    Excellent documentary, heard of them always thought they were escaped slaves but no, it seems its all so fascinating.

  • bringmeredwine

    I found this so depressing.

  • 1concept1

    I would like to know why their population is in decline? Oh well.

  • http://1iotofoto.wix.com/otofoto oQ

    because the system is eating them up

  • http://1iotofoto.wix.com/otofoto oQ

    Tribes are always extremely interesting. The only way to extend their life would have been to give them more land, a lot more land and keep it inaccessible. Plain and simple.

  • 1concept1

    Its take how many thousands of years to eat them up 40thousand did they say they tracked them back? No big thing just thinking out loud?

  • Gadea

    Too bad, they could not be left alone, to live their lives,
    as they had been able to do so for centuries.

  • Harry Nutzack

    genetic isolation and lack of genetic diversity. examples of similar decline can be found in the efforts to re-populate lions in africa, the output of "puppy mills", and the giant panda. that they still exist is a testament to their incredibly "good" genetics when initially isolated, but the mechanism is inevitable. it also stands to reason that the colonialist pressures of the past couple hundred years contributed to the decline (eg: the 2 tribes warring with the brit penal colony), as well as exposure to disease/pathogens they have no history of coping with. an example of that was shown in the "vintage doc" referenced in this piece, where the widow wearing her husband's mandible is covered in smallpox scars. the move from "forest hunter gatherer" to fishing (to cope with a lack of game) would have likely contributed to an increased mortality of reproductive aged males as well. splintering into separate tribal units would also contribute (further limiting genetic diversity, as well as adding inter-tribal competition for resources)

  • CapnCanard

    Notice their small size, perhaps this is because of isolation, presumed increased competition for resources. I am reminded of the last known Mammoth species was a Dwarf species found on Wrangel Island dating back to only about 1,650 BCE(and keep in mind that it was thought that all Mammoths were thought to be extinct about 10,000 BCE!) Those Mammoths of Wrangel island were all dwarf versions of Mammoths, i.e. I believe about half the size of accepted Mammoth size. And then there is the so-called "Hobbit" hominin species of Flores Island, circa 15,000 BCE, perhaps a dwarf version of Homo erectus?. Very curious.

  • bringmeredwine

    The other day, a Pygmy walked by me, all bundled up against the freezing cold.
    I was fascinated and shocked all at once.
    I honestly thought they had died off.

  • Jimmy's friend

    I'm curious, enslaved by whom and where, did you think?

  • Harry Nutzack

    the only way to answer that would be massive excavation of the islands, thus unearthing their ancestors remains (assuming any survived from that long ago in so tropical an environment). then one could study changes in stature over time. i imagine that would be objected to by most. one could make a case for a "darwinian advantage" to being of slight stature while occupying a dense jungle environment. it's probably a mystery we will never have a definitive answer to.

  • Harry Nutzack

    the pygmy folk still habituate some dense forests of africa. of course, your comment kind of begs the question "how did you know they were pygmy?" dwarvism can manifest in a proportional manner in people of any ethnicity. little folks of african heritage aren't of necessity closely related to that subset of african humans. in my neighborhood is an extremely petite (4 ft tall or so) young lady of african heritage, whose family is composed of average to large people, except for her. she is perfectly proportional in form of limbs and such (and actually quite beautiful), yet her 6 ft tall, 200+ pound brother would seem to be evidence she is not of pygmy ethno-origin.

  • rudeboi

    I am often confused with this first out of Afrika thing. They say India has the oldest civilization which never made sense to me if Afrika is where it all started.

  • Harry Nutzack

    much more of india has been subject to the plow, compared to africa. civilization pre-dating that in india could just be well hidden.

  • rudeboi

    in other words, the no one really knows.

  • pwndecaf

    They know exactly where there is one dead pig buried on the beach. The lady was interested in pig DNA. I don't think the locals would mind. They sure didn't want it when it was delivered!

  • Harry Nutzack

    well, india has "the oldest known", and that is the way it is usually represented, at least in academia. some sod buster in gabon, or tanzania could change that tomorrow, or it could stand for another couple of centuries. "psychic archaeology" is unrecognized for good reason, lol

  • Harry Nutzack

    i honestly doubt the remains of a pig would give us much of an answer as to the historical stature of the resident's ancestors. might make decent bait for crab pots though

  • rudeboi

    I'm under the impression that they have no clue what happened on this planet before modern record keeping. Can you even imagine what Vatican is hiding over there?

    I have read so many differing views until I just have to make up my own mind.

    I like to think that we are just the latest of many civilizations that have reached some form technical advancement before killing themselves off. I think the Hopi says we are the six such civilization. There have been strange finds in strata in upwards 300,000,000 years old. And I'll leave it at that.

  • pwndecaf

    Yeah, I was just joking. I did think it was an impressive way to communicate their message to the would-be visitors that they weren't welcome.

  • Harry Nutzack

    pretty much impossible to take as a "warm welcome" i would say, though some might just assume they "kept a kosher house", lol

  • bringmeredwine

    Crack me up!

  • bringmeredwine

    She looked perfectly proportioned, too.
    I guess I'll never know for sure.

  • Harry Nutzack

    could try politely inquiring if you ever see her again. i tend to find folks don't take genuine curiosity as a reason to feel insulted, especially if the "difference" could be from multiple causes. i asked a young lady who works in a local store if she knew where in africa her family was from, because a featured young woman in a "vice" doc on here related to the cocoa growing in ghana resembled her to an incredible degree. she was very interested, so i gave her the name of the doc, and told her she could find it both here, and on youtube. maybe one day Cherisse will find her long hidden relatives because of it.

  • 1concept1

    I knew there had to be a reason somewhere. I am too lazy to research or google info. Thank You Harry.

  • bringmeredwine

    I wouldn't dare!!!

  • jerome.wedge

    oldest civilization is the Australian aboriginals at around 60,000 years
    doesn't mean they are the first people to live, they are just a group of people who's way of life etc (civilization) has lasted an extended period of time.

    even though africa is where it all started, people migrated from there to all over the world..
    they are the oldest people, because they were here first, but by no means the longest living civilization (as far as i or we know)

  • whoopi goldberg

    it seems more like were almost quarantining them in isolation when we should probably rather be encouraging some form of assimilation

  • Harry Nutzack

    depends on your motivation, really. from a perspective of "continuation of their genetic stock", i would agree 100%. however, from a perspective of "allowing them self determination", they appear to have NO desire to be assimilated, exactly the opposite.

    having seen the results of "yeah, we're forcing them, but it's for their own good" as historically applied, is this really a cause worthy of championing? would you force all amish teens to learn to drive a car, or only give lessons to those who express a desire to do so?

  • Harry Nutzack

    then enlist the aid of a gregarious, doe eyed 6 year old. a wide eyed inquiry of "are you a pygmy??" by such a moppet would be entirely too cute to take offense with, lol

  • yellowmattercustard

    I don't know; for it is inevitable. Somewhere in my genetic past I was forced and apparently adapted very well.

  • bringmeredwine

    I must confess Harry, when I read your suggestion that I politely inquire if the young lady was a pygmy; I starting laughing so hard that tears were rolling down and my laptop almost fell onto the floor.
    Haven't laughed so hard in weeks!

  • bringmeredwine

    I vote leave 'em alone.

  • Harry Nutzack

    personally, i see pros and cons in both perspectives. my point was only to illustrate the "conundrum of ethics" such a decision involves. if "leave them be" is chosen, that can be undone at any future date (until they die off, anyway). if "assimilate without consent" is chosen, that genie can NEVER be thrust back into the bottle. i for one am glad not to be on the "steering committee" for that decision, as it seems a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" line item

  • Harry Nutzack

    well, i AM a native son of brooklyn, an area i am sure will NEVER be known as "the last bastion of social graces", lol. truthfully though, i inquire about folks' heritage all the time. my locale has a vastly diverse population, and i'm a "curious george" kind of chimp. most take great pride in their lineage, i have found. very few take offense, and those that seem inclined to are usually "disarmed" when they see my inquiry is actually based on understanding, rather than discriminating. one lady was absolutely impressed i had a smattering of elementary knowledge of her homeland (eritrea). another lady (while laying carpet in her home) was inspired by my sympathetic words for the plight of her home town (beirut) to make our crew some excellent coffee, and share her delicious home made baklava with us. that made me a hero at work, lol

  • whoopi goldberg

    maybe they should have brought some delicious tikka masala and maybe some pakoras instead of a live goat. seriously imagine living 3 km away from an amazing indian market and settling for eating unseasoned turtle meat.

  • Harry Nutzack

    unfamiliar food is often regarded with suspicion, even by folks thoroughly assimilated in modern culture. personally, i will eat just about anything, and have found little that is unpalatable, yet have friends who would rather go hungry than even try something "new". a married couple i know would both turn their noses up at ANYTHING with a "curry odor", yet would attack a burger king sandwich with a vengeance a plague of locusts would find enviable. i hope the local burgeoning vietnamese population finally takes enough of a toe-hold to be able to support a restaurant, so i can try ship worms and horse-shoe crab dishes, but have little doubt i would be the only euro heritage local to even consider the idea. "just like mom used to make" is very often the ONLY thing people will even consider eating.

  • http://princejaka.wordpress.com princeton

    well why the extremes.. why not voluntary assimilation. Its not like people can't trade and share with them. They are actually leaving the village and going around asking people for food and money... so i wouldn't say anyone is forcing them to assimilate.

    We all enjoy modern amenities.. we don't have to force them to get jobs and all, but we can at least introduce the technology and tools to them.

    This leave them alone attitude or force them to assimilate is why the world is so screwed. People forgot how to simply be caring friends. they're not a science project, they're people and we should treat them as such. if one of them was your cousin or sister.. how would you treat them?

  • yellowmattercustard

    I do too. Fortunately evolution is not democratic.

  • yellowmattercustard

    That's where you and I disagree. If it is inevitable then there is no question of ethics.

  • Harry Nutzack

    the same way i would amish teens, and driving. i would have a policy of "non-interference unless requested". i whole-heartedly agree they are neither a diorama of "ancient man", nor some fungi populating a petri dish. such basics as "don't crap in your drinking water" would be offered up by me no matter what, but i would also temper my suggestions with not compromising their culture. what gives me pause is the real danger of their idyll becoming yet another "club hedonism", and them being "assimilated" into the housekeeping dept, or the garment making ghettos of bangladesh. as i say below, in my eyes it seems to be a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. it seems to me the indian authorities are giving some influence (medical treatment, the steel adzes they use to dig out their outriggers), but also striving to allow them self determination of how much modernity they want. that seems prudent to me, at least based on the tiny sliver of their lives shown in this doc.

  • Harry Nutzack

    please see my above reply to "princeton", as it pretty much covers my view. my "fear" is exploitation under cover of "assimilation".

  • yellowmattercustard

    I see what you are saying.

  • Harry Nutzack

    my view is tainted by the grim specter of the monroe doctrine, and "manifest destiny" as practiced in my county's history. perhaps it is a myopic view. true, the local tribes of aboriginal americans here in florida have recently prospered enormously (the seminoles are the majority owners of the "hard rock" corp, and the mickosukee have great wealth), but i have also seen "el alamo" in guaynabo PR (probably among the most dangerous places to live in the world), and the crippling poverty of the navajo nation. cell phones and flush toilets don't seem so sweet a deal if they cost being a house slave for a saudi royal, or the newest crop reaped by a russian brothel. my guess is many of the taino and navajo rue the day of their own assimilation

  • http://princejaka.wordpress.com princeton

    i fully agree

  • Jack Wagon

    Why don't we just take control of them and make them into US Citizens?

  • RickRayFSM

    If we do anything to have relationships with them please make sure we don't indoctrinate them with any religion. Are you listening, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovahs, plus all 30,000 plus denominations of Christianity????

  • mike jarvis

    This may sound familiar, "Resistance is futile"! You will be assimilated!

  • mike jarvis

    Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated! Sorry. I couldn't resist.

  • dave stewart

    Did no one find it a bit disturbing that biochemist, Dr. Erika Hagelberg was not allowed near the natives,i think something bad not just progress is happening to these people like being slowly wiped out,the indian scientist was probably in on it, could it be the ong have not stayed in the houses that were probably forced on them because its a protest against them being enslaved on a plantation and not them being quaint.
    The indian guy got the least amount of film needed and no interviews about the tribes past history plus they said at the end there are only about 400 islanders left is that from all the tribes as Dr. Erika mentioned about 100 ong were left we saw all the settlers on the ferry thats just one journey we heard there was trouble between settlers and natives that policeman just happened to tell Dr. Erika she was not allowed to go further and our indian friend was only to eager it seemed to agree it was hopeless for her to go back and get permission to go on it stank off a set up the forlong looks off the natives in the boat that chanced across Dr. Erika they didnt seem so sick to me that they were on way to doctors is it something sinister or i have smoked to much grass tonight?

  • Anonymous

    No, s/he didn't think. Chard01 saw Africans and thought, 'slaves.'

  • Rasta Rico Washington

    Why not leave them alone and let them continue to live in the purist form of mankind!

  • Silsal

    Yeah I thought that was a bit disturbing too actually and I'm surprised more people aren't talking about it in the comments.
    I also thought it odd that, as a scientist, he only collected samples to investigate his work on the Y chromosome and didn't collect anything on behalf of Dr. Erika and her X chromosome work.
    Surely a scientist's main aim should be to discover the truth, or at least as close to it as they can get, no matter how frustrating that journey may be.
    But now, because of corruption, we have lost a rare chance to learn something about ourselves as a species and deprived future generations of geneticists valuable samples that may have unlocked vital information about the history of the human race.
    That and the whole thing reeked of human rights violations.
    This may be presumptuous but I think if you don't have anything to hide then you don't try to hide it.
    There was very little new footage of the Ong used in this doc (probably because there was very little made available to the doc makers to use), they replaced the english crew and stopped Dr. Erika even though she had gained permission through frustratingly drawn out, legal means. Why?
    Personally I feel like I've just watched something rare and beautiful slowly being killed behind a bulletproof-glass screen; powerless to stop it.

  • terencegalland

    Sad though it seems, it kinda looks like the bible is gonna have to have a makeover!

  • james

    The documentary is interesting, let alone the sensationalist narrator who seems to want to show the natives as bloodthirsty savages. The overly dramatic music also tries to sell this documentary as a sensational cannibalistic and violent savages action film.

    How dare they resist civilization? Their actions of resistance are highly dramatized. We hear about the death of an innocent Indian bus driver, a "deadly and joint" attack on the colonial prison, but all the while Jarawas and Onges are dying by the thousands.

    The narrator also seems to find the behavior of the Sentinelese outrageous and unacceptable: we brought them gifts, how dare they refuse contact? Well I've got news for you: refusing contact is the reason why they've survived for thousands of years, so if you really care about their well-being, I would suggest encouraging them to keep doing that for the next millenia. The Sentinelese are a unique example of survival on earth, possibly the last uncontacted tribe. Their Great Andamanese fellows had no choice but to submit, and the last member of their tribe died recently.

    The arrogance of the so-called "civilized world" is on full display when Dr. Hagelberg reaches Port Blair. There she meets fellow geneticians who are trying to collect blood cells and DNA sequences from the tribes, but it seems the only goal is to find out whether they could be useful in treating our Western diseases. After nearly killing them all, we might find some "use" for them afterall. Perhaps they might save us? I'm afraid nothing is done for the well-being of the original inhabitants of these islands in and for themselves, but rather how we could find some use for them or as a mere scientific curiosity to study in a laboratory. At the end of this passage, one of the doctors even says that their DNA will be saved for future generations, even if they all disappear - their preservation sounds secondary.

    Despite this appalling commentary, this a realistic (read: sad) and fascinating account into a diverse and threatened culture.

  • Hodmaroz

    Wonderful thought but unrealistic... religion is nothing without spreading it's disease & poisons of the mind.

  • bobbb567 .

    Did we see the same thing?

    She says: the tragedy is not the genes being lost, its their way of life that's lost. She agrees with you.

    The narrator is just stating the facts. The islanders were hostile towards the newcomers. That's exactly what happened, not his opinion at all.

    I'm glad the narrator isn't outraged and passionate or whatever. When I watch something that is very opinionated (which is a lot of them) I get annoyed and stop watching, even if I agree with it.

  • Kath

    I think you are overstating it somewhat, but you're certainly not wrong that there is an imperialist lean to this film.

    For instance, weighted language is used to describe the "terrifying" and "hostile" natives, but no such language is used against the invaders, the ones oppressing and killing them, The appalling behaviour of those who have stolen the lands is not really questioned at any stage, so the natives come off as having the quirk of being irritable. In truth they are responding as anyone would when a perceived apocalypse befalls our homelands.

    I also wonder why they never questioned the refusal of the permits. There would seem to be obvious reasons why an occupying force would not want outsiders to see the state in which it allows oppressed native groups to remain.

    Again, their behaviour is not really questioned and the march of their destruction is called "inevitable". Like, oh well, we just have to put up with genocide. It's a shame, but it's just one of those things ain't it.

    It's probably not intentional, but a result of the culture we (and the filmakers) have been raised in where invasion and oppression in the name of "progress" are normalised.

  • Kath

    Not just you.

    I think it is very telling that they did not want outsideer to see the state in which the native groups are being kept.

    It's also clear that direct action continues to be taken against them as invasion of new islands is still being allowed.

    And this is not really questioned or marked for what it is (genocide) by the film but seen as (while a shame), the inevitable march of progress.

  • Kath

    I just wanted to return to this and point out something else squicky that comes up a couple of times in this film;

    The wording used at several points is that "they [the Andaman people] can teach us about OUR own origins".

    The implication, intentional or not, is that the Andaman people are not part of modern humanity. They are like us, but not of us.

    Who is "us"? Presumed white western veiwers.

    This is racism.

  • Kath

    It is weighted with opinion because he fails to mention the entirely hostile action of the "newcomers" in stealing the land and resources, killing, relocating, oppressing, etc the naitves.

    Only the behaviour of the defending force is marked with such descriptors as "hostile" and "warlike", not the agressor. That's a pretty big lean.

  • Mahlet

    so i read most of the comments before watching the documentary and I feel like I will be more offended than educated after watching it. urgh

  • Marissa Panky Mulford

    Yeah they sure Pure. Purely and irrevocably inbred.

  • Toy Pupanbai

    Hawaii?

  • Toy Pupanbai

    Bad luck they were part of the British Empire?
    Much closer to Siam: would they have faired any better?
    The road is a disaster!

  • don fairfield

    Man is the Indian government vile shits. They let rapists run wild in their streets, let are very efficient at making sure a female scientist can't work. Bet they are exterminating the native pygmies ASAP so as to make room for themselves. Disgusting scum, they surely learned well from the Brits.

    An interesting topic, although this ended up more a "how obstructionist & petty can the indian gov/beuroctracy be"

  • jake pepper

    so... your saying we live a pure life? eating, drinking all sorts of chemicals and taking all sorts of processed drugs and processed foods. we live a processed life. it doesn't sound pure at all... actually it kinda makes the "inbred" society sounds nice... i dont even get that, how were ancient societies even supposed to grow without the community having sex? isn't that how we have kids? dont be so ignorant

  • Beck

    This is inaccurate. Seriously, you have much to learn about DNA and the evolution of mankind before properly criticizing this documentary on the subject. By your statement, "presumed white western viewers" correlated with "racism" is in itself prejudice and racism induced by your own socio-cultural influences.

  • dave

    why don't they send them to a proper country to be re educated

  • Yosemite Sam

    Dr. Erika Hagelberg must allow an Onge man to visit her every night for 3 nights. Then (and only then) will she be given a permit.