Andamanese - History and Cultural Relations

The Andamanese are believed to share a cultural affinity with some of the Orang Aslis of insular Southeast Asia. It has been argued that the Andamanese arrived from the Malay and Burmese coasts by land in late quaternary times or, at a later time, by sea. There is also speculation that the Andamanese came from Sumatra via the Nicobar Islands. However, the precise origins of the Andamanese remain scholarly speculations that have not been thoroughly investigated and researched. The early recorded history of the islands began in earnest with the British in 1788. Rapid changes in trade winds in the area, monsoons, and coral reefs surrounding the islands caused many shipwrecks; those few who survived shipwrecks were killed by the Andamanese. In an effort to establish a safe harbor for their ships, the British made many unsuccessful attempts to pacify the islanders. In 1859, the British established Port Blair, a penal settlement on Middle Andamans; the location was chosen because it was fortified by its isolation and by Andamanese hostility. Over a period of time the Great Andamanese, who occupied the forests surrounding Port Blair, were pacified and even cooperated with British authorities in tracking down escaped convicts. Today the islands form a part of the Union Territory of India. The British imperial administration established "Andaman homes" (large permanent residences under a supervisor) for the tribals in an effort to foster a cordial relationship through exposure to European civilization. By 1875, Andamanese Culture had come under scientific scrutiny, as anthropologists Finally realized that this was a group of people dangerously close to extinction. From 1879, under the direction of British scholars, Andamanese culture was documented, cataloged, exhibited, and written about, especially with regard to linguistics and physical anthropology. Since Indian independence in 1947, many different plans for the social welfare and Economic development of the islands and the tribal population have been implemented. Today the remaining four tribal groups are under the government-controlled institution called Andaman Adim Jan Jati Vikas Samiti. Government planners, administrators, and social workers face a dilemma in determining what kinds of changes in the traditional worldview of the remaining tribal groups, especially the Ongees, should be effected. The Jarwas and the Sentinelese have remained largely outside the framework of structured and prolonged welfare activities. The Great Andamanese, who of the four groups have had the longest period of contact with outsiders, are the most dependent on outsiders and their goods; they also are the smallest group, with practically no memory of their own language and traditions.

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