The Indigenous Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands: History and Culture

Jul 8, 2024 | Blog

Before becoming a vibrant tourist destination with pristine coastlines and charming beachside shacks, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were home to tribes who had lived there for centuries. However, the arrival of visitors brought diseases like malaria and other epidemics to which the tribes had no immunity, causing their numbers to rapidly decline. In this guide, we’ll explore the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands from close quarters and engage with their socio-historical culture. 

The Great Andamanese

The Great Andamanese, one of the oldest tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands, had an estimated population of 10,000 in 1789. According to the 1971 Census, there were just 24, but this number rose to 41 by 1999. Efforts to protect and preserve the tribe have led to their relocation to Strait Island. Traditionally foragers, the Great Andamanese now consume modern foods like rice, dal, and chapati, though they still hunt and gather occasionally. Their diet includes fish, dugong, turtle, turtle eggs, crabs, roots, and tubers, along with pork. Recently, some have taken to cultivating vegetables and establishing poultry farms. Unfortunately, they are vulnerable to communicable diseases and unhealthy drinking habits acquired from contact with non-tribal communities.

Onge

The Onges, one of India’s most primitive tribes, belong to the Negrito racial stock and reside in the Dugong Creek reservation on Little Andaman Island. Semi-nomadic and fully reliant on nature for sustenance, the Onges have experienced the impact of outsiders due to successful efforts at befriending them. They have been provided with pucca houses, food, clothes, and medicine by the Administration. Their diet includes turtle, fish, roots, and jackfruit. The Onges have developed skills in artistry and crafts, including canoe making.

Jarawas

With an estimated population of 341, the Jarawas being one of the prominent tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands, inhabit the western coasts of South and Middle Andaman islands. The Ministry of Home Affairs, in consultation with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs and the Andaman and Nicobar Administration, implemented a policy in December 2004 to protect and ensure the welfare of the Jarawas. The Jarawa reserve area has been expanded from 847 to 1,028 sq. km to provide a rich forest-based food resource. Additionally, the coastal water up to 5 km from the high tide line has been declared a tribal reserve. Exclusive wards for Jarawas at primary health centers and hospitals in Port Blair have been established to prevent unnecessary contact with non-tribals. A 5 km buffer zone around the Jarawa reserve helps shield them from large-scale tourism and commercial activities.

Sentinelese

Amid the other diminishing tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands, the Sentinelese occupy an area of about 60 sq. km. Being inhabitants of North Sentinel Island, they are considered the world’s only remaining Paleolithic people, living without contact with other groups or communities. Believed to be an offshoot of the Onge and Jarawa tribes, the Sentinelese have developed a distinct identity due to their isolation. Known for their hostility, they never leave their island, and little is known about them.

Shompens

Shompens, being one of the prominent tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands, inhabit Great Nicobar, the largest island in the Nicobar group. They belong to the Mongoloid race and have two divisions, with the smaller group known as the Mawa Shompens, who live near coastal regions along river valleys. Though initially shy, the Shompens have close relations with the Nicobarese. The larger group, known as the hostile Shompens, live in the interior areas near the Alexendra and Galathia rivers and the east coast. Historically, the Mawa Shompens faced attacks from the hostile Shompens, but such hostility has ceased, likely due to disease reducing their numbers. With the establishment of a settlement at Campbell Bay in Great Nicobar, the Shompens have begun interacting more with settlers, gradually overcoming their shyness and indifference toward civilized people.

Takeaway

The tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, each with their unique cultures and traditions, form an integral part of the region’s heritage. From the Great Andamanese and Onges to the Jarawas, Sentinelese, and Shompens, these communities have adapted to changing circumstances while preserving their distinct identities. We invite you to entrust us with planning your Andaman trip. Embark on an unforgettable journey with our Andaman tour packages. Discover the pristine beaches, turquoise waters, and lush landscapes with our exclusive 5 nights and 6 days Andaman honeymoon package. The next time you set sail on your adventure, let us know what you uncover!