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Tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands


In the Andaman and Nicobar Islands live some of the most primitive tribes in the world. Find out more about them.


Can you imagine people that are living completely untouched by modern ways? Some tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands still follow a very ancient way of life.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are spread over the Indian Ocean and the southern range of the Bay of Bengal. Only around 38 of these 570 islands have been inhabitant by humans. Over the years, these islands remained largely isolated from mainland India. Members of these tribes mainly lived a self-contained life, discouraged outsiders, and developed a unique culture of their own.

These are some of the primitive tribes that are found on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Great Andamanese

This actually referred to a group of related tribes that inhabited the Andaman Islands. In 1789, the population of this tribe was 10,000, but a census in 1999 recorded only 49 members.

Originally, members of the Great Andamanese only ate food that they hunted and gathered. Their traditional diet consists of fish, crabs, turtle meat and eggs, and roots and tubers. Today they grow crops and rear poultry, though they also continue to hunt.

Presently most of the Great Andamanese tribals have settled in Strait Island. The government is making intensive efforts to help them preserve their distinct identity. The tribes are highly susceptible to contagious diseases brought in by outsiders to the islands. Many of them have also become corrupted by modern vices such as drinking alcohol.


Onges

Also known as Ongee, this primitive tribe is descended from the Negrito racial stock, which includes people with features such as dark skin and woolly hair. They are mainly restricted to certain areas in the Dugong Creek and South Bay on the Little Andaman Island. These tribes are semi-nomadic and continue to live in remote seclusion. Originally, they found their sustenance from the forest, living mainly on fish, turtles, and other aquatic animals, as well as roots and jackfruits.

The Onges are good artisans who are skilled with their hands. They are experts at fashioning sturdy canoes. However, contact with the modern world is causing them to slowly forget these indigenous skills. Besides, they have a very low reproduction rate. As a result of all this, the future of the tribe is quite uncertain.


Jarawas

The Jarawa are another indigenous tribe of the Andaman Islands. This nomadic tribe continues to live by hunting, fishing, and gathering. They mainly live on wild boar, fish, crabs, turtle eggs, honey, and fruits. They build rafts to cross streams and other small stretches of water.

Until recently, the Jarawas resisted all attempts to make friendly contact with them. However, they now accept gifts such as food or medical aid provided by governmental mission bodies. The name Jarawa is not the real name of the tribe but is derived from a word in an extinct language of the Great Anadamanese tribe, meaning 'enemy' or 'hostile'. The Jarawas are somewhat related to the Onges.

Because they allow limited contact with outsiders, the Jarawas are not adversely affected by contagious diseases brought in by them. Government authorities and NGOs are working to protect these people and help them to preserve their way of life.


Sentinelese

This tribe is the most hostile of the tribes of the Andaman Islands. They are mainly found on North Sentinel Island, in an area of about 70 square kilometers. They are thought to be part of the Onge and Jarawa tribes, which got separated and developed their own distinct identity. They are strongly independent and remain hostile to any attempts to maintain friendly contact with them. They have always lived in isolation and follow customs and manners that are completely free from any external influence.

They sometimes accept gifts laid for them. While they resemble the Jarawas and the Onges, they are comparatively taller. Because of the difficulty in approaching them, neither their exact numbers nor their habits are known.


Shompens

The Shompens are inhabitants of the Great Nicobar, which is the largest of the Nicobar Islands. They are mainly hunter-gatherers of Mongoloid stock—a race descended from, or having physical resemblance to people originating in central and eastern Asia. The Shompens also comprise a smaller group called the Mawa Shompems. Earlier the Shompens shunned any outside contact, though now they have gradually become more relaxed and friendly towards outsiders.


Are you interested in indigenous and tribal cultures? Do you think the government should preserve the distinct identity of these tribes? Is it better to help integrate them into mainstream society? To share your views and suggestions, click here.


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