Andamanese - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Hunting and gathering, predicated on a seasonal translocationary pattern, characterize Andamanese culture. The Jarwas and Sentinelese are still completely dependent on hunting and gathering activities. Among the Ongees, however, plantation cultivation of coconuts has become important since its introduction in 1958. Although the Ongees gather the coconuts, they do not want to be involved with, nor do they participate in, any form of agricultural activity. The Ongees are paid for gathering coconuts by the welfare agency with food rations and industrial products from mainland India. Consequently, the forest products they consume increasingly are being replaced by imported products. Among the Great Andamanese hunting is only an occasional activity. They are paid a monthly allowance by the government and also receive wages for taking care of the citrus fruit plantations. Fishing in the sea is usually done with bows and arrows while standing in knee-deep water, especially during low tide, and it is a year-round activity. Occasionally lines and hooks are used to fish in the sea. Hand-held nets are used to fish and to gather crabs and other shellfish from the island's inland creeks. Fish is an important part of Andamanese culture; in the different dialects the term for "food" is the same as that for "fish." Traditionally the northern groups caught sea turtles in large nets, but this is not done by the southern groups. Ongees paddle out to sea in their dugout outrigger canoes to hunt sea turtles and dugongs with harpoons. During the wet season the Andamanese hunt pigs in the forest with bows and detachable arrowheads. Dogs, introduced to the island in 1850 and the only domesticated animals among the Andamanese, are sometimes used to track down the pigs. Throughout the year there is a strong dependence on gathering a variety of items, such as turtle eggs, honey, yams, larvae, jackfruit, wild citrus fruits, and wild berries.

Industrial Arts. Traditionally the Andamanese were dependent on the forest and the sea for all resources and raw materials. Raw materials such as plastic and nylon cords have now been incorporated into Andamanese material culture: plastic containers are used for storage; nylon cords are used as string to make nets. These items are usually discarded by passing ships and fishing boats and are then washed up onto the islands. The Indian government distributes as gifts to the Ongees, Jarwas, and Sentinelese metal pots and pans, and as a consequence metal cookware has nearly replaced the traditional hand-molded clay cooking pots that were sun-dried and partially fire-baked. The Ongees continue to make clay pots but use them primarily for ceremonial occasions. Ongees grind metal scraps, found on the shore or received from the government, on stones and rocks to fashion their cutting blades and arrowheads. Prior to the introduction of metal in 1870 by the British, the Ongees made adzes and arrowheads from shells, bones, or hard wood. Although iron is highly valued by the Ongees, they do not use iron nails to join objects. Ongees still join objects by carving or tying rattan rope, cane strips, or strands of nylon cord. Smoking pipes, outrigger canoes, and cylindrical containers for holding honey are among the many items carved by the Ongees.

Trade. Traditionally trade within a group was conducted between the bands identified as pig hunters (forest dwellers) and turtle hunters (coastal dwellers). The pig hunter band traded clay paint, clay for making pots, honey, wood for bows and arrows, trunks of small trees for canoes, and betel nuts in exchange for metal gathered from the shore, shells for ornaments, ropes and strings made from plant fibers and nylon, and edible lime gathered by the turtle hunters. The bands would take turns serving as host for these organized events of exchange. Historically the Andamanese gathered honey, shells, and ambergris to trade with outsiders in return for clothes, metal implements, or even cosmetics. Under the imperial administration trade with outsiders was the means of entry for opium and liquor into the Northern Andamanese community. According to the Ongees in the days before coconut plantations and the help of the welfare agencies, they and their ancestors would travel by canoe northward to Port Blair to exchange with other Andamanese for the sugar and tobacco received from the British administration.

Division of Labor. Only men hunt pigs, dugongs, and turtles. Both men and women perform all other activities of day-to-day life, including child care, cooking, and the gathering of food resources and raw materials.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, among the Andamanese certain territories were identified as belonging to a specific band. In the Northern and the Middle Andamans it was frequently necessary to pass through another's territory. The trespassers were obliged to behave as guests in another's territory and, in return, the owners of a given territory were obliged to behave as cordial hosts. Thus, a feeling of mutual interdependence and a value for hunting and gathering in each other's part of the island has created a process of shared production and consumption. Among the Ongees of Little Andaman, where no other tribal group resides, the island is divided into four major parts and identified with two pairs of mythical birds, each of which is associated with land or water. The four divisions of land represent the four Ongee clans. Each section of the island is further subdivided into sections of land associated with a lineage. These land divisions, known as megeyabarrotas, are identified with a person's matrilineage and, depending on whether the territory is in the forest or on the coast, with either the turtle hunters ( eahambelakwe ) or the pig hunters ( ehansakwe ). Ongees prefer to hunt and gather in their own megeyabarrota but there are no restrictions on hunting in someone else's megeyabarrota. If one does hunt in another's megeyabarrota one is obliged to offer and share first with the owners any resource taken. A person's identity with a megeyabarrota plays a crucial role in Ongee rituals and ceremonies; for example, consummation of a marriage must occur in the wife's megeya-barrota, and a dead person's bones must be kept in the berale (circular hut) of a descendant's megeyabarrota.

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Jun 10, 2019 @ 1:01 am
Hi! I wanted to ask what is the economy and the livelihood of these tribes? I am having difficulty To find this important information.

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: