The Tribes of Andaman & Nicobar Islands

 
Before it became a vibrant tourist destination populated with well-maintained pristine coastlines and charming beachside shacks, Andaman and Nicobar islands used to be home to tribes who had lived there since time immemorial. They lived there peacefully for centuries, engaging in hunting, foraging and fishing. But when visitors arrived, they were almost eradicated by malaria and other epidemics that they had never had to build immunity against, because they had never been exposed to the microbes that carried those diseases. Their numbers rapidly declined, as they failed to recover in the following decades.

Although lesser in number, their presence is an iconic feature of this destination. So let us dive into the history of the native tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Andamanese

 
At one point, the Andamanese were the most popular of the Andaman tribes. In the Battle of Aberdeen in 1859, the British - armed with their guns, first arrived to colonize lands that previously belonged to the Andamanese. Bows and arrows and makeshift spears were the weapons the Andamanese could muster, and they were forced to surrender quickly to escape annihilation. After that, systemic exploitation by the British (and the diseases they brought with them) resulted in the number of the Andamanese dwindling. They were recently located on Strait Island where they benefit from the rights of being a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group - a title they would not have received if their population had been scattered across the numerous islands.

indigenous child of Andaman tribes
women belonging to tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands

Sentinelese


Very little is known about the Sentinelese as they have vehemently refused all attempts of contact from the rest of the world and insisted on remaining isolated. They occupy North Sentinel Island and are known to be hostile to anybody attempting to associate with them. Multiple fly-bys and other attempts to make friendly contact with them have been made but they have refused to let outsiders get close to them. The exact number of Sentinelese people is unknown as long-term contact with the tribe has been virtually impossible.

 

 

Jarawa

 
The Jarawa is the Andaman islands tribe that has been most receptive to outside contact. They have been known to voluntarily seek medical assistance in cases of emergency. There are around 200-400 Jarawas who subsist on fishing, hunting and foraging. There are records of regular contact being made with the Jarawa since the 1970s. The Great Andaman Trunk Road - commonly known as NH 4, was constructed on land that previously belonged to the Jarawa. This move almost forced them to regularly interact with the other residents of the islands.

 

Onge

 
The Onge tribe resides in Little Andaman and is also friendly to outsiders. They are semi-nomadic and depend on hunting and foraging for sustenance. They have been regularly contacted since the 1950s and have since accepted gifts like sugar, tobacco and clothes, among others. Lack of land for hunting has led to some sections of the Onge tribe settling down in one location and practising agriculture. There are around 100 remaining Onge, while the rest have fallen prey to epidemics like measles.

 

Shompen


First contacted in the 1840s, the Shompen are one of the most populous tribes of Andaman Nicobar island. There are around 200-300 Shompen who mainly reside on Great Nicobar Island. They have not been very receptive to the outside world, so there is no knowing how many have survived epidemic outbreaks, COVID-19 etc. They are primarily hunter-gatherers.

beach on Andaman and Nicobar islands
child belonging to Andaman islands tribe

Nicobarese


The Nicobarese are not one particular tribe, but a blanket term referring to the dominant tribes residing on the Nicobar Islands. They have a matriarchal chief and most of them practise Christianity, while others practise animism and other traditional religions of the islands. They mainly depend on agriculture for their food and even use fruits and nuts as a form of currency.

On your visit, come stay at Symphony Palms Beach Resort and Spa located on Havelock Island and learn more about the indigenous tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands.