The various tribes of Andaman islands apparently make up for the original occupants/ population of the island. They are known to have been replaced by the so-called civilians of the island that we know of today. That’s both sad and misleading in terms of “tracing back the lineage”. The tribal race originating from these stupendous islands have been living the hunter’s dream since ages wherein they have been dwelling in the forests and jungles of the islands for centuries. This isolated living for thousands of years can be retracted or even studied today.
The Andamanese and Nicobarese can be broadly divided into tribal groups primarily based on their place of origin. The Andaman Islands are populated by four ‘Negrito’ tribes, such as – the Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese. Where as the Nicobar Islands are home to two ‘Mongoloid’ tribes – the Shompen and Nicobarese.
The ‘Negrito’ tribes of Andaman islands have supposedly arrived in the islands from Africa up to 60,000 years ago. All are believed to be nomadic hunter-gatherers, hunting wild pig and monitor lizard, and catching fish with bows and arrows. They also collect honey, roots and berries from the forest. The ‘Mongoloid’ tribes are known to have come from the Malay-Burma coast several thousand years ago.
The Various Tribes Of Andaman Islands
1. The Great Andamanese
The great Andamanese collectively refer to ten different tribes that occupied most of the large islands in the Andaman. These tribes spoke different but related languages, and were of Negrito origin. They were related by culture and geography.
Until the late 18th century, these tribes of Andaman islands were remotely isolated from outside influences until of course the British colonization. It’s true that the initial entry of the British forces were staunchly resisted by the tribes of the Andaman island, with their total population of 5000-8000. However, the Britishers made another attempt to capture Port Blair in 1858 and succeeded, only to battle with the soldiers of the great Andamanese tribe in 1859. The battle between the great Andamanese and the British regime is known as ‘The Aberdeen war’. Most of the young male population was slaughtered in the battle. Population of these tribes of Andaman islands further decreased, owing to imported diseases, to which the islanders had no immunity.
The remaining people shifted base to Straight island and that is where they live today. Only two tribes (Jeru and Bo) remain among the ten, eight of which are known to have been extinct. The tribes of Andaman island that have survived are with stunted cultural and linguistic identities for the members mostly speak Hindi. They now consume Indian food, apart from all the hunting of wild animals and deriving food from trees. Seemingly, they are dependent on support by the Indian government for survival. They now practice some agriculture, and have established some poultry farms too.
Onges are one of the oldest tribes of Andaman Islands and also in all of India. They belong to the Negrito racial stock and have been mainly seen near the Dugong creek in Little Andaman. They are fully dependent on the food provided by nature and are a semi-nomadic tribe. The Onge population ebbed post British colonization from 672 in 1986 to 92 in 1901 but has remained stable since then.
The Onge population have finally opened up to the locals in the island. They now trust outsiders as friendship with them have proved beneficial. They have been provided with pucca houses, food, clothes, medicine etc. by the Administration. They eat turtle, fish, roots and jack fruits etc. They are known to be keen towards artistry and crafts. The Onges can make canoes. A primary school has also been functioning at the Dugong Creek settlement of Onges. The population of this tribe is stable and is at present 110. There have now been alcoholics among the Onge males and six deaths have been reported because of this already. Inquiries into ways of controlling this addiction are taking place.
With a population between 250 to 400, the Jarawa tribe is one of the largest tribes of Andaman islands. The people of this tribe have shunned away any outside contact since centuries and even their tribe name means “The hostile ones” or “people of the earth”.
The Jarawa are still at the primitive stage of life on earth. They entirely depend upon forest and sea for food. Wild boar and monitor lizard are consumed. Various kinds of fruit , honey and tubers are parts of their diet too. The people of the Jarawa tribe, including both men and women remain stark naked. They do wear jewels made with shells and palm leaves, but not in the sense to cover their nudity.
This tribe has lived in the southeast part of Andaman but after the British regime they shifted to the western region of the island. They have forever been hunter gatherers in the true sense. Things only changed since the 1990’s, especially after the building of the old trunk road.
The great Andaman trunk road is a 360 km long road that connects Port Blair to the western regions of Andaman. Despite its tourism and economy benefits, its construction has been fatal for the Jarawas. This trunk road cuts through the jungles that are home to the Jarawa community.
The Sentinelese people are said to be so hostile that their home has been named the ‘hardest place to visit’ in the world.
They inhabit the North Sentinel island, and are the only tribe of Andaman islands to be cut off from the rest of the world. There’s therefore not much information about them, rather nothing. Since 1967, the Indian government with the help of anthropologists has tried to make contact with the tribe.
The officials have tried to bribe them with food, etc but of no avail. Whoever comes near the island is rather met with stones and arrows. In 2006, 2 fishermen who were fishing illegally near the island were shot by Sentinilese archers. The helicopter which was sent to take back the bodies was also showered with arrows. After the tsunami, the government again tried to help them by sending a few employees to the island with gifts but again, the same response followed. Presently the policy of the Indian government is to leave the Sentinilese alone. No one is allowed to surpass the Sentinelese lands.
These vibrant tribes of Andaman Islands have also been affected by covid-19 like the rest of the world and that’s sad because they hardly have facilities for proper cure. These Tribes need to be respected in terms of existence, space and everything they abide by. Be sensitive towards them, don’t visit in case they seem hostile. Colonization has been harsh on the entire world, and a lot on them. They too are on a verge to go extinct, because of further industrialization, and so is their culture. Be supportive, be empathetic, and yes, “ALL LIVES MATTER”!