Sixth scents

Not only did animals use a mysterious sixth sense to escape the recent dreadful tsunami, but it would appear that supposedly primitive people (who, as we all know, are much more in tune with their environment than we are) also saw it coming—although saw isn't exactly the word:

BBC Radio 4, Thinking Allowed (16-Feb-05): What is the role of the senses in society? Why do many people in west-African societies hold hands when they talk? Did a group of islanders in the Bay of Bengal really 'smell' the Tsumani coming? And thus survive?

No, they didn't.

Of course, the sociologist and Thinking Allowed presenter, Prof. Laurie "I misquote people on air to make them sound stupid" Taylor, being a total expert on the scientific hypothesis front, immediately challenged the utterly preposterous assertion made by this week's guest, David Howes, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, that the members of an ancient tribe in the Andaman Islands smelt the tsunami coming. Here is what Prof. Taylor said:

Yes, that's right, he didn't even bat an eyelid. Nice one, Laurie!

Why do people always have to look for mysterious explanations? The BBC has already published a far more sensible account of how the ancient tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands happily managed to survive the tsunami:

BBC (20-Jan-05): Tsunami folklore 'saved islanders'

Traditional knowledge handed down from generation to generation helped to save ancient tribes on India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands from the worst of the tsunami, anthropologists say…

The aboriginal tribes—some of the oldest and most isolated in the world—have oral traditions apparently developed from previous earthquakes that may have allowed them to escape to higher ground before the massive tsunami struck the island chain off Indonesia.

The Onge tribe, for example, have lived on Little Andaman for between 30,000 and 50,000 years and, though they are on the verge of extinction, almost all of the 100 or so people left seem to have survived the 26 December quake and the devastating waves which followed.

Their folklore talks of "huge shaking of ground followed by high wall of water", according to Manish Chandi, an environmental protection worker who has studied the tribes and spoke to some Onges after the disaster.

No voodoo. No mysterious sixth sense. Just good old-fashioned folklore.

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