Andamanese - Orientation

Identification. The Andamanese are the indigenous tribes of Negrito hunters and gatherers of the Andaman Islands. In 1908, the term "Andamanese" referred to thirteen distinct tribal groups, each distinguished by a different dialect and geographical location. Today only four tribes remain and are referred to collectively as "Andamanese." The four extant tribes are the Ongees of Little Andaman Island, the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island, the Jarwas of the Middle Andamans, and the Great Andamanese of Strait Island.

Location. The Andaman Islands, which comprise an archipelago of 348 islands, are located in the Bay of Bengal Between 10°30′ and 13°30′ N and 92°20′ and 93°0′ E. The total land area is 8,293 square kilometers, of which about 7,464 square kilometers are covered with tropical rain forests. The northern and central islands are hilly, while the southern islands are surrounded by offshore coral reefs and are criss-crossed with tidal creeks. The southwestern and northwestern monsoons create a rainy season that lasts approximately nine to ten months each year; annual precipitation is 275 to 455 centimeters. The only dry season on the islands begins in February and ends in March.

Demography. In 1800, the total tribal population on the islands was estimated at approximately 3,575. In 1901, the estimate dropped to 1,895, and in 1983, the total tribal Population was 269. Of the 1983 estimate only the count of 9 Great Andamanese and 98 Ongees was accurate. The Jarwas and the Sentinelese are isolated by topography and by each tribe's hostility toward outsiders. Since 1789, the population of nontribal peoples on the islands has steadily increased. The total number of outsiders on the islands was 157,552 in 1983 compared to the 269 tribals. The intrusion of outsiders and diseases introduced by them, such as measles, ophthalmia, and venereal disease, has contributed directly to the overall decline in tribal population and its disproportionate male/female ratio. The islands' expanding timber industry and the settlement of increasing numbers of nontribals, primarily from mainland India, also have reduced the total area available for use by the tribals.

Linguistic Affiliation. Areal linguistic connection of Andamanese with South and Southeast Asian language areas has not been systematically established. Andamanese as a language family is composed of two main groups: Proto-Little Andamanese, which includes Ongee, Jarwa, and Sentinelese; and Proto-Great Andamanese. Proto-Great Andamanese is further subdivided into three groups: Bea and Baie of South Andamans; Puchikwar, Kede, Juwoi, Koi, and Jko of Middle Andamans; and Bo, Chari, Jeru, and Kora of North Andamans. Early ethnographic accounts suggest that each of the tribal groups on the islands spoke mutually unintelligible languages. Yet linguistic records, compiled by the island's administrators and more recent research, suggest a great degree of overlap in terms used by each group.

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