Great Andamanese

  (Redirected from Great Andamanese people)

The Great Andamanese are an indigenous people of the Great Andaman archipelago in the Andaman Islands. Historically, the Great Andamanese lived throughout the archipelago, and were divided into ten major tribes. Their distinct but closely related languages comprised the Great Andamanese languages, one of the two identified Andamanese language families.[2]

Great Andamanese
Great Andamanese RIALA 1890.jpg
Riala, an interpreter for the British from the Aka-Kede Tribe of Great Andamanese from Middle Andaman in 1890
Total population
59 (2020)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Strait Island)
originally Great Andamanese languages, today mainly Hindi and other Indian languages, Census of India 2001
Related ethnic groups
Onge, Jarawa, Jangil, Sentinelese

The Great Andamanese were clearly related to the other Andamanese peoples, but were well separated from them by culture and geography. The languages of those other four groups were only distantly related to those of the Great Andamanese and mutually unintelligible; they are classified in a separate family, the Ongan languages.

Once the most numerous of the five major groups in the Andaman Islands with an estimated population between 2,000 and 6,600, the Great Andamanese were heavily decimated by diseases, alcohol, colonial warfare and loss of hunting territory. Only 52 remained as of February 2010;[3] by August 2020 there were 59 (of whom 10 tested positive for COVID-19).[4] The tribal and linguistic distinctions have largely disappeared, so they may now be considered a single Great Andamanese ethnic group with mixed Burmese, Hindi and aboriginal descent.[5][6][7]


The Great Andamanese are classified by anthropologists as one of the Negrito peoples, which also include the other four aboriginal groups of the Andaman islands (Onge, Jarawa, Jangil and Sentinelese) and five other isolated populations of Southeast Asia. The Andaman Negritos are thought to be the first inhabitants of the islands, having emigrated from the mainland tens of thousands of years ago.[8]

Until the late 18th century, the Andamanese peoples were preserved from outside influences by their fierce rejection of contacts (which included killing any shipwrecked foreigners) and by the remoteness of the islands. Thus the ten Great Andamanese tribes and the other four indigenous groups are thought to have diverged on their own over the course of millennia.


Territories of the Great Andamanese tribes and other Andamanese peoples in the late 19th century (map widened for clarity).

By the late 18th century, when the British settled on Great Andaman, the Great Andamanese were divided into 10 main tribes with distinct languages, each counting between 200 and 700 individuals.[9] Their territories spanned most of the Great Andaman islands, including Ritchie's Archipelago and Rutland Island but excluding Little Andaman (inhabited by the Onge) and the North and South Sentinel Islands (of the Sentinelese). On South Andaman the Great Andamanese coexisted with the Jarawa, and on Rutland Island with the Jangil. Arranged by territory, roughly from north to south, the original tribes were:[2]

(The prefixed forms of the names actually refer to the respective languages, but they are often used for the tribes themselves.) By 1994 there were also 4 Great Andamanese individuals with no tribal affiliation.[10]

The Great Andaman islands run in a north–south line for some 350 km but are only some 50 km wide at its widest extent. This peculiar geography meant that each tribe typically had only two or three neighbours. Indeed, until colonial times, the northern and southern tribes seemed unaware of each other's existence.[9] Except for the Bea and Bale, who had intense and friendly relations and whose languages were mutually intelligible to some extent, there was little interaction between the tribes at the time of first European contacts.[9] The tribes were further split into smaller units—"septs", "local groups", and families—and also between shore-dwellers (aryoto) and forest-dwellers (eremtaga).[9]

Territories of various Andamanese groups, early 1800s and 2004.

Population declineEdit

Estimates of the Great Andamanese population by the time of the first British settlement (1789–1796) vary between 2000 and 6600 individuals.[5][12] When the British established a permanent settlement and penal colony on Great Andaman in the 1860s, the population was estimated at 3500.[5] At that time their isolated culture was suddenly confronted with the industrial and colonial culture of 19th century Europe.[13][14] The colonial administrators proactively tried to pacify and co-opt the tribes, recruiting them to capture escaped convicts. Populations went into sharp decline as contact intensified.[15] Imported diseases, to which the islanders had no immunity, decimated the tribes at the end of the 19th century; In some cases, people who became sick were killed by other tribe members in an attempt to stop contagion.[5] The migration of mainland settlers to the islands accelerated this decline.

By 1901, only 625 Great Andamanese were left,[5][16] and following censuses reported steadily declining numbers: 455 in 1911, 207 in 1921, 90 in 1931.[5] Von Eickstedt counted "around one hundred" in 1927.[14]

In 1949, the surviving Great Andamanese were relocated to a reservation on Bluff Island (1.14 km2) in an attempt to protect them from diseases and other threats.[17] In 1951, after Indian independence, their numbers had shrunk to about 25,[11] mostly from the northern tribes.[9] They became extinct in the mid 20th century, but had a few admixed individuals which went to an all-time low of only 19 in 1961.[16][18]

In 1969, the 23 surviving Great Andamanese were again relocated, to Strait Island (about 5 km2).[17] Their numbers have slowly increased since then, to 24 (1971 census), 26 (1981), 45 (1991), and 43 (2001). There were about 50 individuals living on Strait Island in 2006[19] and 52 individuals in January 2010.[20][21] However, by 1995 the people identified as Great Andamanese already included many people with partly Burmese or Hindi descent.[5]

As the Great Andamanese retreated, the Jarawa occupied part of their former territory on the west coast of Great Andaman, which they were still inhabiting as of 2011. Also, by 1911, some 80 Onge had moved into the former territory of the Bea and the Jangil, in Rutland Island and South Andaman; however by 1921 they had dwindled to 61, and were gone by 1931.[5]

Current statusEdit

Today only two tribes (Jeru and Bo) remain in significant number; the Cari tribe was on its way to extinction.[17][22] There are still a few people (all elderly) with partial Kora and Pucikwar descent, but they identify themselves as either Jeru or Bo.[6] However, the cultural and linguistic identities of the individual tribes have largely been lost; their members now speak mostly Hindi[20][21] or a mixed language, a Great Andamanese creole.[19]

Although the Great Andamanese on Strait Island still obtain some of their diet from hunting, fishing and gathering, they now consume rice and other Indian food, and are dependent on support by the Indian government for survival.[9] They now practice some agriculture, and have established some poultry farms.[23]

Some of the Great Andamanese work in government jobs in the union territory's capital Port Blair. Indian officials announced on 27 August 2020 that 10 out of 59 surviving members had contracted the COVID-19 disease during the pandemic in the union territory, but six of them had recovered and taken into home quarantine. After six who had gone for work to Port Blair a week earlier tested positive, a team of health officials was sent to Strait Island to conduct their tests. The team found four to be positive and they were admitted to a hospital.[24][1]


  1. ^ a b Ellis-Petersen, Hannah (27 August 2020). "Ten in remote Indian tribe of 59 test positive for Covid-19". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Jarawa: The Great Andamanese". Survival International. Archived from the original on 12 October 2014. The Great Andamanese were originally ten distinct tribes, including the Jeru, Bea, Bo, Khora and Pucikwar. Each had its own distinct language, and numbered between about 200 and 700 people. They are now collectively known as the Great Andamanese.
  3. ^ "Language lost as last member of Andaman tribe dies". The Daily Telegraph. 5 February 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Weber, George (2009). "7. Numbers". The Andamanese. Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  6. ^ a b Abbi, Anvita (2006). "Great Andamanese Community". Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  7. ^ "VOGA". Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese.
  8. ^ "Members of Ancient Tribe Escape". CBS News. 14 January 2005. Anthropologists believe five tribes of the southern Indian archipelago—including the Jarawas, Shompens, Onges and Sentinelese—date back 70,000 years.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Weber, George (2009). "8. The Tribes". The Andamanese. Archived from the original on 7 May 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d e Sharma, A. N. (2003). Tribal Development in Andaman Islands. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons. p. 75. ISBN 978-81-7625-347-5.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g van Driem, George (2001). Languages of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook of the Greater Himalayan Region : Containing an Introduction to the Symbiotic Theory of Language. Brill. ISBN 90-04-12062-9. ... The Aka-Kol tribe of Middle Andaman became extinct by 1921. The Oko-Juwoi of Middle Andaman and the Aka-Bea of South Andaman and Rutland Island were extinct by 1931. The Akar-Bale of Ritchie's Archipelago, the Aka-Kede of Middle Andaman and the A-Pucikwar of South Andaman Island soon followed. By 1951, the census counted a total of only 23 Greater Andamanese and 10 Sentinelese. That means that just ten men, twelve women and one child remained of the Aka-Kora, Aka-Cari and Aka-Jeru tribes of Greater Andaman and only ten natives of North Sentinel Island ...
  12. ^ Weber, George (2009). The Andamanese. Archived from the original on 24 July 2013.
  13. ^ Cooper, Zarine (2002). Archaeology and History: Early Settlements in the Andaman Islands. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-565792-6. ... iron implements, glass bottles, beads, and other objects were freely distributed by the British among the Great Andamanese...
  14. ^ a b Mukerjee, Madhusree (2003). The Land of Naked People. Houghton Mifflin Books. ISBN 0-618-19736-2. ... In 1927 Egon Freiherr von Eickstedt, a German anthropologist, found that around one hundred Great Andamanese survived, 'in dirty, half-closed huts, which primarily contain cheap European household effects.'
  15. ^ Lee, Richard B.; Daly, Richard Heywood (1999). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57109-X. ... Over time, the Great Andamanese, who occupied the forests around Port Blair, were pacified. Beginning to cooperate with British authorities, they helped recapture escaped convicts. By 1875, when these peoples were perilously close to extinction, the Andaman cultures came under scientific scrutiny...
  16. ^ a b Sarkar, Jayanta (1990). The Jarawa. Anthropological Survey of India. ISBN 81-7046-080-8. ... The Great Andamanese population was large till 1858 when it started declining ... In 1901, their number was reduced to only 600 and in 1961 to a mere 19 ...
  17. ^ a b c Mann, Rann Singh (2005). Andaman and Nicobar Tribes Restudied: Encounters and Concerns. Mittal Publications. p. 149. ISBN 81-8324-010-0.
  18. ^ "Basic Statistics – 1 – Demographics, table 1.16 'Tribal Population'" (PDF). A & N Islands Administration, Directorate of Economics and Statistics. 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  19. ^ a b Abbi, Anvita (2006). Endangered Languages of the Andaman Islands. Lincom Europa. ISBN 9783895868665. ... The latest figure in 2005 is 50 in all ...
  20. ^ a b "Language lost as last member of Andaman tribe dies". The Daily Telegraph. 5 February 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  21. ^ a b "Lives Remembered: Boa Sr". The Daily Telegraph. 10 February 2010. Archived from the original on 13 February 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  22. ^ Malekar, Anosh. "The case for a linguisitic survey". Infochange Media. Retrieved 1 August 2011.
  23. ^ "A Brief Note on Vulnerable Tribal Groups". Andaman and Nicobar Administration. Archived from the original on 18 February 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2012.
  24. ^ "Coronavirus Hits 10 of Dying Andaman Tribe of Just Over 50 People". NDTV. Agence France-Presse. Retrieved 27 August 2020.