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Andamanese people

Two Great Andamanese men, circa. 1875

The Andamanese people are the various aboriginal inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, a district of India located in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal.

The Andamanese resemble other Negrito groups in Southeast Asia. They are pygmies, and are the only modern people outside of certain parts of Sub-Saharan Africa with steatopygia. They lead a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and appear to have lived in substantial isolation for thousands of years. The Andamanese are believed to be descended from the migrations which, about 70,000 years ago, brought the first modern humans out of Africa to the Andaman Islands.

By the end of the eighteenth century, when they first came into sustained contact with outsiders, there were an estimated 7,000 Andamanese divided into five major groups, with distinct cultures, separate domains, and mutually unintelligible languages. In the next century they were largely wiped out by diseases, violence, and loss of territory. Today, there remain only approximately 400–450 Andamanese. One group has long been extinct, and only two of the remaining groups still maintain a steadfast independence, refusing most attempts at contact by outsiders.

The Andamanese are a designated Scheduled Tribe.[1]


  • Tribes 1
  • Origins 2
  • Genetics 3
    • Nuclear DNA 3.1
    • Genomic 3.2
    • Y DNA 3.3
    • Mitochondrial DNA 3.4
    • Lack of Denisovan heritage 3.5
    • Phenotype 3.6
      • Dental Morphology 3.6.1
    • Skeletal Phenotype 3.7
  • History 4
    • Ancestry 4.1
    • Population decline 4.2
    • Recent history 4.3
  • Culture 5
  • Andamanese Language 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Distribution of Andamanese tribes in the Andaman Islands — early 1800s versus present-day (2004)

The five major groups of Andamanese found by the European colonists were:

  • Great Andamanese, extinct 54 Admixed Individuals [2]
  • Jarawa now estimated 250 to 400 verified to exist in pure form
  • Jangil or Rutland Jarawa, extinct[3]
  • Onge, now fewer than 100 verified to exist in pure form
  • Sentinelese, now estimated to be 100 to 200.

Jarawa and Onge are dominated by y-dna haplogroup D which is native to the Andamanese.[4]

By the end of the eighteenth century, there were an estimated 5,000 Great Andamanese living on Great Andaman. Altogether they comprised ten distinct tribes with different languages. The population quickly dwindled until they went extinct in pure form, and had a low of 19 admixed individuals by 1961.[5] It has increased slowly after that, following their move to a reservation on Strait Island. By January 2011, there were only 54 admixed individuals from three tribes, who spoke mostly Hindi.[2]

The Jarawa originally inhabited southeastern Jarawa Island and have migrated to the west coast of Great Andaman in the wake of the Great Andamanese. The Onge once lived throughout Little Andaman and now are confined to two reservations on the island. The Jangil, who originally inhabited Rutland Island, were extinct by 1931; the last individual was sighted in 1907.[3] Only the Sentinelese are still living in their original homeland on North Sentinel Island, largely undisturbed, and have fiercely resisted all attempts at contact.

The tribe members of the Jarawa tribe focused on traditional knowledge.Traditional knowledge was a huge part of their culture. This referred to those who learned through observations and experiences when it came to identifying the relationship between different organisms and environmental resource areas. Their way of life is interwoven with the traditional knowledge of a group.[6]


Map of human haplotype migration based on mitochondrial DNA, with Key (coloured) indicating periods in numbered thousands of years before the present. Note the route of the mtDNA haplogroup M through the Indian mainland and the Andaman Islands, possibly on to Southeast Asia

It is widely disputed whether the Andamanese originated from Myanmar or mainland India. Geographically Myanmar makes sense as it is closest to the Andaman archipelago. There is however a lack in genetic evidence to support this theory. Genetic evidence shows that the Andamanese most likely originated in northeast India. time estimations suggested that northeast Indians migrated over an ice land bridge connecting Andaman archipelago and Myanmar.[7]

It is assumed that those ancestors were part of the initial Great Coastal Migration that was the first expansion of humanity out of Africa, via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and toward Southeast Asia, Japan, and Oceania.[8][9]

Some anthropologists postulate that Southern India and Southeast Asia once were populated largely by Negritos similar to those of the Andamans,[8][10] and that some tribal populations in the south of India, such as the Irulas are remnants of that period.[11][12]

Until the late eighteenth century, the Andamanese culture, language, and genetics were preserved from outside influences by their fierce reaction to visitors, which included killing any shipwrecked foreigners, and by the remoteness of the islands. The various tribes and their mutually unintelligible languages thus are believed to have evolved on their own over millennia.


"Scarification pattern among the Great Andamanese in the late 19th century. Nothing is known of the origins or antiquity of this custom among the Andamanese."

The strongest clues to their origins are derived mostly from genetic analysis, both of nuclear DNA[8][13] and mitochondrial DNA.[14] Genetic tests reveal that Negritos are related to the Homo sapiens of the early dispersal out of Africa, 70kya. The Andamanese are similar to Africans in terms of Craniology and are genetically closest to East Asians. The Andaman islanders have similar dental morphology to South Asians.[15] The Andamanese are most genetically similar to the Malaysian Negrito tribe.[16]

Nuclear DNA

The analysis of nuclear DNA confirms the uniqueness of the Andamanese people. First, they show a very small genetic variation, which is indicative of populations that have experienced a population bottleneck and then developed in isolation for a long period. Second, an allele has been discovered among the Jarawas that is found nowhere else in the world. Overall, the Andamanese showed closest relations with other Asian populations. The Nicobarese also were observed to share close genetic relations with adjacent Indo-Mongoloid populations of Northeast India.[13] Bulbeck (2013) likewise noted that the Andamanese's nuclear DNA clusters with that of other Andamanese Islanders, as they carry Haplogroup D and maternal M (mtDNA) unique to their own.[15]


The Andamanese are believed to be descended from the migrations which, about 70,000 years ago,[15] brought the first modern humans out of Africa to the Andaman Islands. The use of single-nucleotide polymorphism( SNP) has proven the genomes of Andamanese people to be closest to those of South Asians. This suggests a relation between Andaman islanders and South Asians.[15] Analysis of mtDNA, which is inherited exclusively by maternal descent, confirms the above results. All Onge belong to M32 mtDNA, subgroup of M which is unique to Onge people.[14] While parental Y-DNA is exclusively Haplogroup D.[17]

According to the genome-wide study in 2009, Andamanese split from mainland Asia around 48,500 ybp [17] All Andamanese belong to MtDNA M and Y-DNA Haplogroup D [14][17][18][19]

Andamanese are unique in that they were the only population in the study that lacked Y-DNA Haplogroup CF and Haplogroup F.[19] The authors thus suggest that the peopling of Andaman islands must have occurred before the appearance of Y-DNA Haplogroup CF and Haplogroup F and it's descendants, around 60,000 ybp to 50,000 ybp.[19]


The male Y-chromosome in humans is inherited exclusively through paternal descent. Male Onges and Jarawas almost exclusively belong to Haplogroup D-M174.[20] The clade is most common today in Tibet and Japan, with its highest frequencies worldwide in the Pumi population of southwestern China (70.2%).[21] Haplogroup D-M174 also occurs frequently among the Ainu of Japan.[22] On the Indian mainland, it has been observed at low frequencies among Tibeto-Burman speakers.[20] Andamanese males were found to carry five different binary D haplotypes, all of which had previously been observed on the Indian subcontinent, in Southeast Asia and Melanesia.[23]

Male Great Andamanese do not have D-M174. The low resolution study discovered these clades as O, L, K, and P-M45, which means that Great Andamanese are extinct in pure form as all of their male lines have a post-1900 foreign origin and around half of their blood.[23]

Mitochondrial DNA

Analysis of mtDNA, which is inherited exclusively by maternal descent, confirms the above results. All Andamanese belong to M31 and M32 mtDNA, subgroup of M which is unique to Andamanese people.[14][15] The analysis of 20 coding regions in 20 samples of ancient Andamanese people and 12 samples of modern Indian populations changed the topology of the two lineages in South Asians. The data received suggests an M31a lineage in South Asians. This supports the genetic connection between South Asians and Andamanese people, which dates back to about 30kya.[24] The estimated split from mainland Asia is dated around 42,500 ybp.[17] Other mainland specific subgroup of M is distributed in the Asia, where it represents 60% of all maternal lineages.[23][25][26] Given the insularity of the Andamanese, this has led geneticists to believe that this haplogroup originated with the earliest settlers of India during the coastal migration that brought the ancestors of the Andamanese to the Indian mainland, the Andaman Islands, and farther afield to Southeast Asia.[27]

Furthermore, on the Andamans, M4 occurs as a subtype also seen on the mainland Asia, whereas M2 occurs in two subgroups (M2 haplotypes 16344T and 16357C) that have not been observed on the mainland and are presumed unique to the Andamanese.[14] This implies a long history of the Andamanese on the islands, which would allow the time for insulated local genetic development. Since the M2 and M4 lineages diverged 60,000-30,000 years before present and both occur outside the Andamans, it is likely that the Andaman islands were colonized originally by bearers of the two different haplogroups.[14]

Lack of Denisovan heritage

Unlike some Negrito populations of Southeast Asia, Andaman Islanders have been found to have no Denisovan ancestry.[28]


Negritos, specifically Andamanese can be identified by the phenotype features they express. Three physical features that distinguish the Andaman islanders include: skin color, hair, and stature. Those of the Andaman islands have dark skin, are short in stature, and have "frizzy" hair. These physical features are shared with Malaysians and believed to have been retained from the early dispersing Homo sapiens. [15][29]

The frizzy hair is considered polygenic because it is the one phenotype feature that has not changed. The skin color and stature can vary within a population.[29] Therefore,hair characterization is very important in identifying the Andaman islanders. The stature of the people within the population has changed over time, a relatively short time. Scientists believe the variation in stature can be contributed to about 200 gene loci that influence height. Similarly, variation in skin color can be contributed to the great number of gene loci that affect the expression of that phenotype. The isolation of the Andamanese people is what has kept the variation in phenotype within the population low. The craniometric study of the Andamanese people is almost the same as that of the South Asians. Therefore, the only way to distinguish between South Asians and Andamanese people is by comparing their stature, skin color, and hair. The skin color contributed to inconspicuousness in a dark environment, the short stature helped ease their movements,and the frizzy curly hair kept their heads dry in the humidity.[29]

Dental Morphology

At first, the dental morphology of the Andamanese was in the middle between African and South Asian. Further study suggests that the dental morphology is Sundadont in pattern; therefore most similar to the dental morphology of South Asians.[30]

When comparing dental morphology the focus is on overall size and tooth shape. To measure the size and shape, Penrose's size and shape statistic is used. To calculate tooth size, the sum of the tooth area is taken. Factor analysis is applied to tooth size to achieve tooth shape. Results have shown that tooth size of Andaman islanders is closest to the tooth size of Chinese and Japanese people . Therefore, the indodont dental morphology of the Andamanese indicates a retention of dental morphology from Southeast Asians in early-mid Holocene.[15]

Skeletal Phenotype

The Andaman islanders are characterized by their small bodies and glacial skeleton.[31] Additionally they have a narrow bi-iliac breadth and short upper limbs. The craniometric studies suggest that the Andamanese are most similar to African in terms of the craniology.The small body size of the Andamanese results in a high surface area to mass ratio, low rate of metabolism, and less heat produced. This is a great adaptation in a hot environment.[30]



What we know about the Andamanese is extremely limited due to there extreme isolation. They are considered by many to be a pristine example of a Negrito that existed throughout southeast Asia. With over a century of research shared ancestry with the Negrito have yet to be established. There commonalities could be the result of evolutionary convergence and/or a shared history. Because of long term isolation and a lack of sufficient genetic evidence it is not possible to establish a connection between the Negrito of southeast Asia and the Andamanese.[32][33]

Population decline

An official 1867 British government communication about organizing a punitive expedition against Andamanese tribespeople on Little Andaman Island

The Andamanese's protective isolation changed with the first British colonial presence and subsequent settlements, which proved disastrous for them. Lacking immunity against common diseases of the Eurasian mainland, the large Jarawa habitats on the southeastern regions of South Andaman Island likely were depopulated by disease within four years (1789-1793) of the initial British colonial settlement in 1789.[34] Epidemics of pneumonia, measles and influenza spread rapidly and exacted heavy tolls, as did alcoholism.[34] By 1875, the Andamanese were already "perilously close to extinction," yet attempts to contact, subdue and co-opt them continued unrelentingly. In 1888, the British government set in place a policy of "organized gift giving" that continued in varying forms until well into the 20th century.[35]

Great Andamese women, 1876

There is evidence that some sections of the British Indian administration were working deliberately to annihilate the tribes.[36] After the mid-19th century, British established penal colonies on the islands and an increasing numbers of mainland Indian and Karen settlers arrived, encroaching on former territories of the Andamanese. This accelerated the decline of the tribes.

Many Andamanese succumbed to British expeditions to avenge the killing of shipwrecked sailors. In the 1867 Andaman Islands Expedition, dozens of Onge were killed by British naval personnel following the death of shipwrecked sailors, which resulted in four Victoria Crosses for the British soldiers.[37][38][39] In the 1940s, the Jarawa were bombed by Japanese forces for their hostility.[3]

Recent history

In 1974, a film crew and anthropologist Triloknath Pandit attempted friendly contact by leaving a tethered pig, some pots and pans, some fruit and toys on the beach at North Sentinel Island. One of the islanders shot the film director in the thigh with an arrow. The following year, European visitors were repulsed with arrows.[40][41][42]

On 2 August 1981, the Hong Kong freighter ship Primrose grounded on the North Sentinel Island reef. A few days later, crewmen on the immobile vessel observed that small black men were carrying spears and arrows and building boats on the beach. The captain of the Primrose radioed for an urgent airdrop of firearms so the crew could defend themselves but did not receive them. Heavy seas kept the islanders away from the ship. After a week, the crew were rescued by an Indian navy helicopter.[43]

On 4 January 1991, Indian scholar Triloknath Pandit made the first known friendly contact with the Sentinelese.[42]

Until 1996, the Jarawa met most visitors with flying arrows. From time to time they attacked and killed poachers on the lands reserved to them by the Indian government. They also killed some workers building the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR), which traverses Jarawa lands. One of the earliest peaceful contacts with the Jarawa occurred in 1996. Settlers found a teenage Jarawa boy named Emmei near Kadamtala town. The boy was immobilized with a broken foot. They took Emmei to a hospital where he received good care. Over several weeks, Emmei learned a few words of Hindi before returning to his jungle home. The following year, Jarawa individuals and small groups began appearing along roadsides and occasionally venturing into settlements to steal food. The ATR may have interfered with traditional Jarawa food sources.[44][45][46]


Group of Andamanese hunting turtles with bows and arrows

Until contact, the Andamanese were strict hunter-gatherers. They did not practice cultivation, and lived off hunting indigenous pigs, fishing, and gathering. Their only weapons were the bow, adzes, and wooden harpoons. Besides the aboriginal people of Tasmania, the Andamanese were the only people who in the nineteenth century knew no method of making fire. They instead carefully preserved embers in hollowed-out trees from fires caused by lightning strikes. They are known as Chadda.

The men wore girldes made of hibiscus fiber which carried useful tools and weapons for when they went hunting.The women on the other hand wore a tribal dress containing leaves that were held by a belt. Majority of them had painted bodies as well. They usually slept on leaves as well, or mats and had either permanent or temporary habitation among the tribes. All habitations were man built.[47] For hunting, different types of methods were used. They survived over thousands of years by hunting and gathering. They made spheres, bows, arrows...etc., specific to what they were hunting. The designing of the various weapons and tools show how their levels of excellence in skill, craftsmanship and creativity were.[6]

Some of the tribe members were credited to having super natural powers. They were called oko-pai-ad, which meant dreamer. They were thought to have an influence on the members of the tribe and would bring misfortune to those who did not believed in their abilities. Traditional knowledge practitioners were the ones who helped with healthcare. The medicine that was used to cure illnesses were herbal most of the time. Various types of medicinal plants were used by the islanders.77 total traditional knowledge practitioners were identified and 132 medicinal plants were used. the members of the tribes found various ways to use leaves in their everyday lives including clothing, medicine, and to sleep on.[48]

Andamanese Language

Andamanese language is considered to be the fifth language family of India, following the Indo-European, Dravidian, Austroasiatic, and Sino-Tibetan.[49] Although there are not many detailed accounts on Andamanese narrations and communications, we know that it is indeed a language that shows a large phonetic variation, including many different vocabulary items that are expressing the same meaning.[50] What is more, Andamanese language is divided into two subgroups, the Great Andamanese languages and the Little Andamanese languages whereas each language in each subgroup is closely related to one another. The languages known as the Little Andamanese are, Sentinelese, Jarawa, and Onge. The Great Andamanese languages are divided into subgroups again named North, South, and Middle Andamanese. First of all, Cari, Bo, Kora, and Jeru are the languages classified in the North Andamanese subgroups. Secondly, Kol, Juowi, Pucikwar, and Kede belong to the Middle Andamanese, and Bea, and Bale belong to the South Andamanese subgroup.[49]

           In relation to Synchronic Phonology, Jarawa and Onge are phonologically similar. In fact, they both lack oral fricatives, but palatal affricates are present in both dialects. They also have similar vowel styles as they both have five non central vowels (“I, u, e, o, a”). Additionally, all content words (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs) are minimally bimoraic in both dialects. One major difference though is that in the Jarawa dialect most words end in consonants while in Onge most words end in “e”. One characteristic that is generally applied to all the different dialects of the Andamanese language is that the wording formation occurs in four different ways, a) affixation, b) attachment of proclitics, c) compounding, and d) combination of affixation, proclitics and compounding. Interestingly enough, the most important feature of this language is the frequent use of proclitics.[51]

See also


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