Onge people

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An Onge collecting honey on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Total population
96 (est.,as of 2008)[1]
Regions with significant populations
western side of Little Andaman Island
traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
other Andamanese peoples, particularly Jarawa

The Onge (also Önge or Ongee) are one of the Andamanese indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands. Traditionally hunter-gatherers, they are a designated Scheduled Tribe of India.[2]


Distribution of Andamanese tribes in early 1800s and 2004; the Onge areas are in blue.

In the 18th century the Onge were distributed across Little Andaman Island and the nearby islands, with some territory and camps established on Rutland Island and the southern tip of South Andaman Island. Originally restive, they were pacified by M. V. Portman in the 1890s.[clarification needed][3][4] By the end of the 19th century they sometimes visited the South and North Brother Islands to catch sea turtles; at the time, those islands seemed to be the limit between their territory and the range of the Great Andamanese people further north.[4] Today, the surviving members (less than 100) are confined to two reserve camps on Little Andaman, Dugong Creek in the northeast and South Bay.

The Onge were semi-nomadic and used to be fully dependent on hunting and gathering for food.

The Onge are one of the aboriginal peoples (adivasi) of India. Together with the other Andamanese tribes and a few other isolated groups elsewhere in East Asia, they comprise the Negrito peoples, believed to be remnants of a very early migration out of Africa.

Population decline

Onge population numbers were substantially reduced in the aftermath of colonisation and settlement, from 672 in 1901 to barely 100.[5]

A major cause of the decline in Onge population is the changes in their food habits brought about by their contact with the outside world.[6] In 1901, there were 672; in 1911, 631; in 1921, 346; in 1931, 250; in 1951 (close to Indian independence), 150.[7]


The semi-nomadic Onge have a traditional story that tells of the ground shaking and a great wall of water destroying the land. Taking heed of this story, all 96 tribesmen of the semi-nomadic Onge survived the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, by taking shelter in the highlands.[8]

Poisoning incident[edit]

In December 2008, eight male tribal members died after drinking a toxic liquid—identified as methanol by some sources—that they had apparently mistaken for drinking alcohol.[9] The toxic liquid apparently came from a container or bottle that had been washed ashore at Dugong Creek near their settlement on the island, according to reports; however, authorities in Port Blair ordered an investigation into the matter to determine whether the poison had originated somewhere else. A further 15 Onge were taken to hospital with at least one critically ill.[10]

With their population estimated at only around 100 before the incident, the director of Survival International described the mass poisoning as a "calamity for the Onge", and warned that any more deaths could "put the survival of the entire tribe in serious danger." Alcohol and alcohol addiction has in recent years developed into a serious problem for Onge, adding to the threats to their continued survival posed by outside influences.[10]

Bhopinder Singh, the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman Islands, has ordered an inquiry into the incident.[11]

Demographic troubles[edit]

The Onge are one of the least fertile and most sterile people in the world. About 40% of the married couples are sterile. Onge women rarely become pregnant before the age of 28.[12] Infant and child mortality is in the range of 40%.[13] The net reproductive index for the Onge is 0.91.[14] For comparison, the net reproductive index among the Great Andamanese is 1.40.[15]

A depiction of Onge people in Kolkata Museum



The Onge speak the Önge language. It is one of two known Ongan languages (South Andamanese languages). Önge used to be spoken throughout Little Andaman as well as in smaller islands to the north, and possibly in the southern tip of South Andaman island. Since the middle of the 19th century, with the arrival of the British in the Andamans, and, after Indian independence, the massive inflow of Indian settlers from the mainland, the number of Onge speakers has steadily declined. However, a moderate increase has been observed in recent years.[17] Currently, there are only 94 native speakers of Onge,[18] confined to a single settlement in the northeast of Little Andaman island (see map above), making it an endangered language.


A genome-wide study by Reich et al. (2009) found evidence for two genetically divergent, ancient populations that are ancestral to most persons inhabiting the Indian subcontinent today: Ancestral North Indians (ANI), who are genetically close to Middle Eastern, Central Asian and European populations, and Ancestral South Indians (ASI), who are genetically distinct from both ANI and East Asians. The Onge Andamanese were observed to be related to the Ancestral South Indians, and were unique in that they were the only South Asian population in the study that lacked any Ancestral North Indian admixture. The authors thus suggest that the Onge populated the Andamanese Islands prior to the intermixture that took place between the Ancestral South Indians and Ancestral North Indians on the Indian mainland.[19]


  • Vishvajit Pandya: Above the Forest. A Study of Andamanese Ethnoanemology, Cosmology and the Power of ritual. Oxford University Press, Delhi 1993, ISBN 0-19-562971-X

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "List of notified Scheduled Tribes". Census India. p. 27. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  3. ^ George Weber, the Tribes. Chapter 8 in The andamanese. Accessed on 2012-07-03.
  4. ^ a b M. V. Portman (1899), A history of our Relations with the Andamanese, Volume II. Office of the Government Printing, Calcutta, India.
  5. ^ (Hindi)"अंडमान में जनजातियों को ख़तरा (Tribes endangered in the Andamans)" (in Hindi). BBC. 2004-12-30. Retrieved 2008-11-25. ... जारवा के 100, ओन्गी के 105, ग्रेट एंडमानिस के 40-45 और सेन्टेलीज़ के क़रीब 250 लोग नेगरीटो कबीले से हैं, जो दक्षिण एशिया की प्राचीनतम जनजाति है (100 of the Jarawa, 105 of the Onge, 40-45 of the Great Andamanese and about 250 of the Sentinelese belong to the Negrito group which is South Asia's oldest tribal affiliation ... 
  6. ^ Devi, L. Dilly (1987). "Sociological Aspects of Food and Nutrition among the Onges of the Little Andaman Island". Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delhi, Delhi
  7. ^ "Journal of Social Research". Council of Social and Cultural Research, Ranchi University Deptartment of Anthropology, Bihar. 1976, v19. Retrieved 2008-11-25.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. ^ Budjeryn, Mariana. "And Then Came the Tsunami: Disaster Brings Attention and New Challenges to Asia's Indigenous Peoples". Cultural Survival Quarterly. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  9. ^ Bhaumik, Subir (2008-12-09). "Alcohol error hits Andamans tribe". BBC News. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  10. ^ a b Buncombe, Andrew (12 December 2008). "Washed-up poison bottle kills eight members of island tribe" (online edition). The Independent (London: Independent News & Media). Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  11. ^ "Inquiry ordered into death of Onge tribesmen". The Hindu. 2008-12-11. Retrieved 13 December 2008. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ A. N. Sharma (2003), Tribal Development in the Andaman Islands, page 64. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi.
  15. ^ A. N. Sharma (2003), Tribal Development in the Andaman Islands, page 72. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi.
  16. ^
  17. ^ The Colonisation of Little Andaman Island, retrieved 2008-06-23 
  18. ^ Önge language - The Ethnologue 
  19. ^ Reich, David; Kumarasamy Thangaraj; Nick Patterson; Alkes L. Price; Lalji Singh (24 September 2009). "Reconstructing Indian Population History". Nature 461 (7263): 489–494. doi:10.1038/nature08365. PMC 2842210. PMID 19779445. Retrieved 12 November 2013.