The Tribes of Andaman

“A racial or religious or tribal identity is a kind of fact.” – Gore Vidal

India is a country with its arms of diversity in almost every sphere there are elements of history that record it and glorified.  there are also elements of history that are oblivious to all the glory.

Such is Andaman and Nicobar Islands history when it comes to all the Exotic tribes who having Habitat the island for so many millions of years and have still managed to keep up with their Legacy, their habits, their cultures, and their lifestyles.

We may talk about the other tribes that are present in India, but there is something that makes these Andaman tribes very special. The reason is that they have managed to keep up with the originality even after Millennia have passed.

Andaman was traditionally a tribal inhabitation before civilization barged into the crude abode of serenity the archipelago was. The main tribes of Andaman are the:

  • Andamanese
  • Onge
  • Jangil
  • Jarawas
  • Nicobarese
  • Shompen
  • Sentinelese

That’s quite long a list for an archipelago that’s a little less than 8500 sq. km with both the civilized and the tribal humans (or should we call them ‘differently civilized’?) co-exist. The list is in a special order that shows the migratory, geographic and evolutionary significance of Andaman.

The Andamanese, the Onge, the Jangil and the Jarawas are Negroid tribes who, in all likelihood, migrated from the African Mainland and were one of the earliest settlers.

The Nicobarese and the Shompen are Mongoloid Tribes who came in from East-Central Asia, characterized by their rather pale skintone, and probably came in a little later than the Negroids.

The Sentinelese, though Negroid, have been out of contact from any form of Civilization for thousands of years, and are among the very few tribes to be so!

Therefore looks like the Negroids and Mongoloids had found their abode of peaceful co-existence even before Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker starred together in the Rush Hour series.

Let’s look at these tribes in detail!!

The Andamanese:andamanese tribe of andaman

The ‘Greater Andamanese’ is the name given to a collection of about 8-10 tribes with considerable similarities. True to their name, we’d expect the Andaman islands to be filled with these tribes, which was kinda true… until 1858. They avoided any contact with the outside world, fiercely defending their territories.  When the Britishers laid siege on the islands in a fierce battle called the Battle of Aberdeen, the Greater Andamanese were defeated by the British (come on.. Artillery and arrows can’t surely compete against), and the tribes were confined to the Strait Island. The saddest part was that most of the young men of the tribe were killed and that left the chances of sustenance bleak.

Most of the tribes are extinct today, and only two of the Great Andamanese tribes – the Jeru and Bo, live today, and they’d number not more than 70. They depend on fishing and hunting for their living, and also on some aid from the Indian Government. They have even taken to Agriculture and Poultry, which was not even their traditional profession.

PS: One of the reasons of the Andamanese losing the battle of Aberdeen in spite of a strategic advantage, was a traitor named Dudanth Tiwari who spent some time with the tribes and helped the British with information. If Bengal has a Mir Zafar who betrayed Siraj ud Daula and if Tamil Nadu has an Ettappan who betrayed Veerapandiya Kattabomman, then Andaman has had its dubious fair-share as well!

Onge:onge tribe of andaman

Just as there is a Bradman among the greatest batsmen of the world, the Onges stand a cut above the rest in the intensity of indigenousness compared to the other tribes. The are among the most primitive tribes, not only in the Andaman but in the entire Subcontinent. Their numbers sharply fell from about about 700 about 35 years ago, to a little less than a hundred in 2001, but the numbers, thankfully, have been maintained steady ever since!

One of the biggest factors that makes the Onge sustain their population is their welcomingness. They have been known to be pretty friendly to the outsiders, and this resulted in them adapting to newed habits like artistry and crafts, in addition to what they were traditionally awesome in – building canoes. There is even a dedicated school to the Onges in the Dugong Creek Area, where they are concentrated at!

PS: Dugong, or the sea-cow is the state-animal of the Andaman islands.

Their food-habits includes turtles, fishes, roots, jackfruits… and Alcohol, albeit in unhealthy proportions, which has resulted in 6 deaths! So much for getting in touch with civilization!

Jarawa:jarawa tribe of andaman

Jarawas are special when it comes to Andaman, not only because the way they have always shunned contacts with the local tribes, but also because they have managed to keep up the numbers. At counts touching numbers closer to 400, they are the strongest tribes of Andaman by numbers. Their name means ‘The Hostile’ or ‘People of the Earth’!

The Jarawas are hunter-gatherers – one of the most primitive forms of livelihood on the planet. They entirely depend on the jungles and seas for their living. Their food, in addition to tubers and honey, includes even exotics like Wild Boar and Monitor lizard meat.

The Sentinelese:sentinelese tribe of andaman

The Sentinelese are a pride, not only to the islands and our nation, but to the entire human species and the planet. They are living and breathing examples of how technology or anything that came in the later stages of the World has got nothing to do with a sustained living.

The tribes are confined to the Sentinel Island, and any iota of an attempt to get in touch with them has been reciprocated with quite a futile resistance. An fishermen who’ve wandered into the islands have been killed, and any contact, even with gifts, through boats or helicopters, only had them shooting arrows at us, even after the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004.

The Government has decided to leave the Sentinelese all by themselves, and has forbidden any entry into the island.

The other minor tribes of Andaman do not divulge much information about them, and there aren’t much details on them either. Before the blog is concluded, there’s one more tribe that needs to be essentially talked about, for reasons not-so-pleasant.

The Jangil:jangil tribe of andaman

There’s nothing much that’s known about this tribe, but here are a few:

1) They were closely related to the Jarawas, and were called Rutland Jarawas.

2) Though they were discovered in the mid-1800s, they sought not to be contacted, and there were not many direct contacts, the last one recorded in 1907!

3) And what did we do to them? In the process of establishing contact, we had introduced new diseases to them to which they had no natural immunity, and that ended up in the TRIBE GOING EXTINCT!

We have not only made the other species go endangered and extinct, but even have let some of our own species down! When the tribals existed in peace and in harmony, they were not a burden to the planet and the ecosystem, even if not a benefit. Now, we, with all our civilization, technology and all of that, have rendered our planet almost unsustainable!

Maybe, it’s time to rethink the way ‘civilization’ is defined – classically ‘civil’ implies ‘courteous and polite’ but civilization doesn’t kinda seem to comply!

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