An Onge collecting honey on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
|96 (est.,as of 2008)|
|Regions with significant populations|
western side of Little Andaman Island
|Related ethnic groups|
|other Andamanese peoples, particularly Jarawa|
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] 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. 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.
Onge population numbers were substantially reduced in the aftermath of colonisation and settlement, from 672 in 1901 to barely 100.
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. In 1901, there were 672; in 1911, 631; in 1921, 346; in 1931, 250; in 1951 (close to Indian independence), 150.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. Infant and child mortality is in the range of 40%. The net reproductive index for the Onge is 0.91. For comparison, the net reproductive index among the Great Andamanese is 1.40.
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. Currently, there are only 94 native speakers of Onge, 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.
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