Andaman and Nicobar Islands People

Andaman and Nicobar islands people present a mix of two main categories: the indigenous tribal people and the outsiders who came here following the colonial rule. Together, they provide a various and colorful ethnicity to the people's profile of Andaman and Nicobar. Although the aborigines are the original inhabitants of the region, the improvement and the enhancement of Andaman owe greatly to the visitors to the area.

Andaman has been populated for over 60,000 years. Some of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands people from the old stone age have continued to stay here and follow their age old economic structure through hunting gathering and fishing.

The Great Andamanese: They were originally the most populous tribes among people of Andaman and Nicobar islands. However, now only a few of them are surviving.

Onge: The Onges also trace their lineage to Africa from where they have migrated some 60,000 years age. They still continue to maintain their indigenous lifestyles despite the changes that have been brought about by time.

Jarawa: Known for their fierceness and violent nature, these Andaman and Nicobar islands people are sharply declining in numbers. Like the Onges and the Andamanese, these people of African origin are great hunters and gatherers, often using iron tips to sharpen their lethal arrows.

Sentinalese: They are considered to be the most inaccessible of the people in Andaman and Nicobar islands.They fish in the coastal areas, and still largely go around naked. They are also known to be wary of strangers.

Unlike the Andaman people, Nicobar people are largely of Mongoloid origin. They migrated from Burma thousands of years age. The major group are the Shompens who are divided into two subgroups of the Mawa Shompens and Nicobarese. The Nicobarese were also known for their violent and hostile nature, which often turned against civilization.

Onge Tribe

Onge is one of the major tribes of the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This tribe consists of 96 sub-categories. This tribe is found in an island towards the south of the Great Andaman called the Little Andaman. Since the year 1976, the Onge tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands has settled down primarily at two different places: the South Bay and the Dugong Creek.

Most of the people of the Onge tribe of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, that is, 91 tribes dwell in the Dugong Creek-particularly, in its forest reserve region. A small minority, that is, 15 people belonging to 5 families are found in the South Bay. The people of the Onge tribe at Andaman and Nicobar Islands living at the South Bay and the Dugong Creek interact with each other and and do not have an antagonistic relationship.

The Onge tribe of the Dugong Creek has further moved to the Tandalu forest. The primary ways of livelihood for the Onge people are fishing and hunting in the forest. The language of the Onge consists of nine vowels and nineteen consonants.

This tribe has accepted government aid. Every family is given a hut of its own. These huts are upheld from the ground with the help of stilts. An Onge family consists of a married couple and their unmarried offsprings. The government also gives an Onge family a ration including match boxes, oil, pulses, biscuits, salt, and clothes. In addition, each family owns a portable transistor.

Shompen Tribe

The Shompen tribe is one of the two Mongoloid tribes that inhabit the Nicobar Islands in the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The sister Mongoloid tribe of the Shompen tribe at Andaman and Nicobar Islands is the Nicobarese tribe. The Shompen tribe of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is found particularly in the biggest of all the Nicobar Islands, that is, Great Nicobar.

The Shompen tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands have gradually got over their inhibitions regarding communication with the urban world. This moderation in their attitude has been made possible by the Campbell Bay settlement in the island of Great Nicobar. This interaction has helped the Mawa Shompens to become more interactive.

The Shompens consist of two sub-divisions: the hostile Shompens and the Mawa Shompens.The majority of the Shompens belong to the first category. The hostile Shompens live in the regions through which the rivers Alexendra and Galathia flow and the interior of the Great Nicobar Island in the east coast.

The Mawa Shompens dwell at a place very near the coast. The people of these two sub-sections have contrasting nature. The hostile Shompens, as the name suggests, are very aggressive in nature, while the Mawa Shompens are quite bashful. However, the Mawa Shompens have a great deal of interaction with the hostile Shompens. There have been instances in the past in which the hostile Shompens have declared wars with the Mawa Shompens. However, such wars are now a story of the past.

The wars have probably ended with many Shompens dying due to different diseases. The Mawa Shompens have particularly suffered due to these diseases and, as a result, their number has drastically reduced and they have become too feeble to fight back the hostile Shompens.

Great Andamanese

The Great Andamanese tribe is one of the Negrito tribes. These tribes are found in the Andaman Islands. Around 60,000 years ago, the Negrito tribes originated from Africa. The Great Andamanese of Andaman and Nicobar Islands has the biggest population among all the tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The current home of the Great Andamanese at Andaman and Nicobar Islands is Strait Island, a small island of the group of Andaman Islands.

In 1789, there was a total of 10,000 Great Andamanese in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In 1971, their number drastically reduced to 24. One of the prime aims of the government is to protect the Great Andamanese tribe from extinction.

The important occupations of the Great Andamanese of Andaman and Nicobar Islands include gathering and hunting. They hunt not only on the land but in water as well. Some of their aquatic delicacies are molluses, octopus, crabs, various shell-animals and fish. They originally lived on dugong, fish, pork, turtle eggs, turtle, roots, crabs, tubers and lizard. They are also engaged in agriculture and grow many vegetables.

The Great Andamanese people, unlike the Santinelese, interact with the urban communities and have acquired many important facets of urban life from them. These people have acquired the modern technique of cooking with various kinds of spices. Hence, they also feed on lentil, rice, and chapati. Their latest introduction to the wide range of food sources is poultry farm.

These are some of the positive effects of the urban contact of the Great Andamanese, though there are a few negative impacts as well. They have become more prone to various communicable diseases and have acquired drinking habit, which is injurious to the health.

Jarawa Tribe

Towards the west of the islands of Andaman, there are the jungles of the Middle Andaman. These jungles are the dwelling place of the Jarawa tribe. The Jarawa tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are presently limited to one part of the island since the Andaman Trunk Road has been put up.

According to one of the primitive languages spoken by the tribal society of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the term 'Jarawa' means 'strangers'. The Great Andamanese first referred to this tribe as the Jarawas. The Jarawa tribe at Andaman and Nicobar Islands primarily thrives on hunting in the jungles as well as the sea. The Jarawa tribe of Andaman and Nicobar Islands strictly refuse to take any government aid and generally discard all kinds of city clothes.

The Jarawa language is suffixal. It constitutes of twenty six consonants and nine vowels. The Jarawa language was once thought to belong to the Andamanese family of languages. There are many linguistic similarities between the Onge language and the Jarawa language.

The language of the Jarawas do not show any prominent influence of the other tribal languages of the region. This is because the Jarawas remained a secluded tribe for a long time. The Great Andamanese-Jarawa antagonism reached its height in the 19th century with the two tribes losing all kinds of social and cultural interaction. However, a very few Hindi words have become a part of the Jarawa dialect of late, owing to the Jarawas who regularly travel to the Grand Trunk Road. Some of these words are 'jana' and 'doh'. There is a single language for the entire Jarawa tribe.

Nicobari Tribe

The Nicobari is the bigger of the two Mongoloid tribes that are found in the Nicobar Islands. The Nicobari tribe of Andaman and Nicobar Islands call each other 'Holchu' literally meaning 'friend'. The Nicobaris is a branch of the Austro-Asiatic family of language. There are many dialects of the Nicobari tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which people of different islands of Nicobar speak in. The dialect that is mostly used for intercommunication amongst the people of different islands of Nicobar is called Car.

The most important way of livelihood for the Nicobari tribe at Andaman and Nicobar Islands is horticulture. They cultivate many types of fruit like pandanus, coconuts, bananas, areca palms and mangoes. The other major occupations of the Nicobaris are fishing, hunting, raising pigs, making canoes and pottery.

The majority of the Nicobaris are Christian. They were converted to Christianity primarily by John Richardson. This person made the New Testament available to the Nicobaris by translating it into the Nicobarese language. The religion other than Christianity which is popular among the Nicobarese is the traditional Nicobar Islands religion.

This religion stresses on the existence of ghosts, spirits and souls. According to this traditional religion, the soul gets separated from one's body after death and the person turns into a ghost. This religion claims that everything that happens in the Nicobar Islands, are regulated by these ghosts. The religion also claims that all the icobari ghosts do not leave the Nicobar Islands and reside very close to these islands.

The older generation of the Nicobari people are illiterate, while the younger generation are relatively more educated due to the free education system introduced by the government. With the introduction of mass education, the Nicobaris are slowly getting inclined towards the urban occupations of clerkship and teaching.

Sentinelese Tribe

The Sentinelese tribe is found in the North Sentinel Island. They cover a total area of about 60 square kms. The Sentinelese of Andaman and Nicobar Islands represent the only group of Paleolithic people in the entire world. The Sentinelese at Andaman and Nicobar Islands are fast decreasing in number. With a total population of about 100, the Sentinelese can be termed a threatened tribe of the region.

The most important ways of livelihood for the Sentinelese in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are gathering and hunting. They hunt both in water and on land. They mainly hunt fish, pigs and lizards. Their chief hunting accessories are bow and arrow.

The Sentinelese at Andaman and Nicobar Islands remain detached from the other tribes of the region. The Sentinelese tribe is one of the Negrito tribes that inhabit the Andaman Islands. The Negrito tribes descended from the far-off country of Africa about 60,000 years ago. This tribe is often claimed to be a branch of the Jarawa and the Onge tribes. However, as the Sentinelese live a secluded life, they have become detached from these tribes and have developed an individual identity.

The Sentinelese are characterized by their painted naked bodies. The Sentinelese are not at all friendly in nature and are very possessive about their own territory. They tend to attack an outsider with fiery arrows.

The Sentinelese people live an independent life and do not entertain any kind of help from the Government, unlike the Onges. Therefore, tourists are often warned against trying to interact with the Sentinelese of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and to avoid the regions where they live, to avoid any unwelcome incident.

Last Updated on: 2nd April 2013