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Two Great Andamanese men, circa 1875

The Andamanese are the various indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, part of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands union territory in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal in Southeast Asia. The Andamanese peoples are among the various groups considered Negrito owing to their dark skin and diminutive stature. All Andamanese traditionally lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and appear to have lived in substantial isolation for thousands of years.[1] It is suggested that the Andamanese settled in the Andaman Islands around the latest glacial maximum, around 26,000 years ago.

The Andamanese peoples included the Great Andamanese and Jarawas of the Great Andaman archipelago, the Jangil of Rutland Island, the Onge of Little Andaman, and the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island.[2] At the end of the 18th century, when they first came into sustained contact with outsiders, an estimated 7,000 Andamanese remained. In the next century, they were largely wiped out by diseases, violence, and loss of territory. Today, only roughly 400–450 Andamanese remain, with the Jangil being extinct. Only the Jarawa and the Sentinelese maintain a steadfast independence, refusing most attempts at contact by outsiders.

The Andamanese are a designated Scheduled Tribe.[3]


Until the late 18th century, the Andamanese culture, language, and genetics were preserved from outside influences by their fierce reaction to visitors, which included killing any shipwrecked foreigners, and by the remoteness of the islands. The various tribes and their mutually unintelligible languages thus are believed to have evolved on their own over millennia.


Map of human haplotype migration based on mitochondrial DNA, with Key (coloured) indicating periods in numbered thousands of years before the present. Note the route of the mtDNA haplogroup M through the Indian mainland and the Andaman Islands, possibly on to Southeast Asia

According to Chaubey and Endicott (2013), the Andaman Islands were settled less than 26,000 years ago, by people who were not direct descendants of the first migrants out of Africa.[4][note 1] According to Wang et al. (2011),

...the Andaman archipelago was likely settled by modern humans from northeast India via the land-bridge which connected the Andaman archipelago and Myanmar around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), a scenario in well agreement with the evidence from linguistic and palaeoclimate studies.[5]

It was previously assumed that the Andaman ancestors were part of the initial Great Coastal Migration that was the first expansion of humanity out of Africa, via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and toward Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania.[6][7] The Andamanese were considered to be a pristine example of a hypothesized Negrito population, which showed similar physical characteristics, and was supposed to have existed throughout southeast Asia. The existence of a specific Negrito-population is nowadays doubted. Their commonalities could be the result of evolutionary convergence and/or a shared history.[8][9]

Research suggests that the Andamanese people are the result of a mix including native Negritos and a (mostly) male-dominated East Asian line (probably the carriers of y-DNA D*). Dental characteristics also group the Andamanese between Negrito and East-Asian samples.[10]

Population decline[edit]

An official 1867 British government communication about organizing a punitive expedition against Andamanese tribespeople on Little Andaman Island

The Andamanese's protective isolation changed with the first British colonial presence and subsequent settlements, which proved disastrous for them. Lacking immunity against common infectious diseases of the Eurasian mainland, the large Jarawa habitats on the southeastern regions of South Andaman Island likely were depopulated by disease within four years (1789–1793) of the initial British colonial settlement in 1789.[11] Epidemics of pneumonia, measles and influenza spread rapidly and exacted heavy tolls, as did alcoholism.[11] In the 19th century, the measles killed 50% of the Andamanese population.[12] By 1875, the Andamanese were already "perilously close to extinction," yet attempts to contact, subdue and co-opt them continued unrelentingly. In 1888, the British government set in place a policy of "organized gift giving" that continued in varying forms until well into the 20th century.[13]

Great Andamanese men, women and children, 1876

There is evidence that some sections of the British Indian administration were working deliberately to annihilate the tribes.[14] After the mid-19th century, British established penal colonies on the islands and an increasing numbers of mainland Indian and Karen settlers arrived, encroaching on former territories of the Andamanese. This accelerated the decline of the tribes.

Many Andamanese succumbed to British expeditions to avenge the killing of shipwrecked sailors. In the 1867 Andaman Islands Expedition, dozens of Onge were killed by British naval personnel following the death of shipwrecked sailors, which resulted in four Victoria Crosses for the British soldiers.[15][16][17]

In 1923, the British ornithologist and anthropologist Frank Finn, who visited the islands in the 1890s, while working for the Indian Museum, described the Andamanese as "The World's Most Primitive People", writing:[18]

I used to envy the pigmies their simple costume, which in the case of the ladies was a wisp and a waistband, and in that of the men, nothing at all. Their interests are looked after by an English Civil Servant, who has to see that no one sells them drink, or interferes with them in any way; but even this officer-in-charge, as he is styled, dares not go among them where he is not known, and considerable tact is required in getting an introduction to the local chief.

In the 1940s, the Jarawa were bombed by Japanese forces for their hostility.[19]

Recent history[edit]

In 1974, a film crew and anthropologist Triloknath Pandit attempted friendly contact by leaving a tethered pig, some pots and pans, some fruit, and toys on the beach at North Sentinel Island. One of the islanders shot the film director in the thigh with an arrow. The following year, European visitors were repulsed with arrows.[20][21][22]

On 2 August 1981, the Hong Kong freighter ship Primrose grounded on the North Sentinel Island reef. A few days later, crewmen on the immobile vessel observed that small black men were carrying spears and arrows and building boats on the beach. The captain of the Primrose radioed for an urgent airdrop of firearms so the crew could defend themselves, but did not receive them. Heavy seas kept the islanders away from the ship. After a week, the crew were rescued by an Indian navy helicopter.[23]

On 4 January 1991, Triloknath Pandit made the first known friendly contact with the Sentinelese.[22]

Until 1996, the Jarawa met most visitors with flying arrows. From time to time, they attacked and killed poachers on the lands reserved to them by the Indian government. They also killed some workers building the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR), which traverses Jarawa lands. One of the earliest peaceful contacts with the Jarawa occurred in 1996. Settlers found a teenaged Jarawa boy named Enmei near Kadamtala town. The boy was immobilized with a broken foot. They took Enmei to a hospital, where he received good care. Over several weeks, Enmei learned a few words of Hindi before returning to his jungle home. The following year, Jarawa individuals and small groups began appearing along roadsides and occasionally venturing into settlements to steal food. The ATR may have interfered with traditional Jarawa food sources.[24][25][26]

On 17 November 2018, a United States missionary, John Allen Chau, was killed when he tried to introduce Christianity to the Sentinelese tribe. The Sentinelese have been protected from contact with the outside world. Trips to the Island are prohibited by Indian law.[27] Chau was brought near the island by local fishermen, who were later arrested during the investigation into his death.[28] Indian authorities attempted to retrieve Chau's remains without success.[29]


Distribution of Andamanese tribes in the Andaman Islands — early 1800s versus present-day (2004)

The five major groups of Andamanese are:

By the end of the eighteenth century, there were an estimated 5,000 Great Andamanese living on Great Andaman. Altogether they comprised ten distinct tribes with different languages. The population quickly dwindled to 600 in 1901 and to 19 by 1961.[32] It has increased slowly after that, following their move to a reservation on Strait Island. As of 2010, the population was 52, representing a mix of the former tribes.[30]

The Jarawa originally inhabited southeastern Jarawa Island and have migrated to the west coast of Great Andaman in the wake of the Great Andamanese. The Onge once lived throughout Little Andaman and now are confined to two reservations on the island. The Jangil, who originally inhabited Rutland Island, were extinct by 1931; the last individual was sighted in 1907.[19] Only the Sentinelese are still living in their original homeland on North Sentinel Island, largely undisturbed, and have fiercely resisted all attempts at contact.


The Andamanese languages are considered to be the fifth language family of India, following the Indo-European, Dravidian, Austroasiatic, and Sino-Tibetan.[33]

While some connections have been tentatively proposed with other language families,[34] the consensus view is currently that Andamanese languages form a separate language family — or rather, two unrelated linguistic families: Greater Andamanese[35] and Ongan.


Group of Andamanese hunting turtles with bows and arrows

Until contact, the Andamanese were strict hunter-gatherers. They did not practice cultivation, and lived off hunting indigenous pigs, fishing, and gathering. Their only weapons were the bow, adzes, and wooden harpoons. With the aboriginal people of Tasmania, the Andamanese were one of only two peoples who in the nineteenth century knew of no method for making fire.[36]:229 They instead carefully preserved embers[36]:229 in hollowed-out trees from fires caused by lightning strikes.

The men wore girdles made of hibiscus fiber which carried useful tools and weapons for when they went hunting. The women on the other hand wore a tribal dress containing leaves that were held by a belt. A majority of them had painted bodies as well. They usually slept on leaves or mats and had either permanent or temporary habitation among the tribes. All habitations were man made.[37]

Some of the tribe members were credited to having supernatural powers. They were called oko-pai-ad, which meant dreamer. They were thought to have an influence on the members of the tribe and would bring misfortune to those who did not believe in their abilities. Traditional knowledge practitioners were the ones who helped with healthcare. The medicine that was used to cure illnesses were herbal most of the time. Various types of medicinal plants were used by the islanders. 77 total traditional knowledge practitioners were identified and 132 medicinal plants were used. The members of the tribes found various ways to use leaves in their everyday lives including clothing, medicine, and to sleep on.[38]

Anthropologist A.R. Radcliffe Brown argued that the Andamanese had no government and made decisions by group consensus.[39]

Physical appearance[edit]


A young Onge mother with her baby, Andaman Islands, British India, 1905

Negritos, specifically Andamanese, are grouped together by phenotype and anthropological features. Three physical features that distinguish the Andaman islanders include: skin colour, hair, and stature. Those of the Andaman islands have dark skin, are short in stature, and have "frizzy" hair. These physical features are shared with Melanesians and believed to have been retained from the early dispersal of Homo sapiens along the coastal route out of Africa.[40]

Dental morphology[edit]

Dental characteristics also group the Andamanese between Negrito and East-Asian samples.[10]

When comparing dental morphology the focus is on overall size and tooth shape. To measure the size and shape, Penrose's size and shape statistic is used. To calculate tooth size, the sum of the tooth area is taken. Factor analysis is applied to tooth size to achieve tooth shape. Results have shown that tooth size of Andaman islanders is closest to the tooth size of Chinese and Japanese people. Therefore, the indodont dental morphology of the Andamanese indicates a retention of dental morphology from Southeast Asians in early-mid Holocene.[40]


"Scarification pattern among the Great Andamanese in the late 19th century. Nothing is known of the origins or antiquity of this custom among the Andamanese."

Genetic analysis, both of nuclear DNA[6][41] and mitochondrial DNA[42] provide information about the origins of the Andamanese. The Andamanese are most genetically similar to the Malaysian Negrito tribe.[43]

Nuclear DNA[edit]

The Andamanese show a very small genetic variation, which is indicative of populations that have experienced a population bottleneck and then developed in isolation for a long period.

An allele has been discovered among the Jarawas that is found nowhere else in the world. Blood samples of 116 Jarawas were collected and tested for Duffy blood group and malarial parasite infectivity. Results showed a total absence of both Fya and Fyb antigens in two areas (Kadamtala and R.K Nallah) and low prevalence of both Fya antigen in another two areas (Jirkatang and Tirur). There was an absence of malarial parasite Plasmodium vivax infection though Plasmodium falciparum infection was present in 27·59% of cases. A very high frequency of Fy (a–b–) in the Jarawa tribe from all the four jungle areas of Andaman Islands along with total absence of P. vivax infections suggests the selective advantage offered to Fy (a–b–) individuals against P. vivax infection.[44]

Overall, the Andamanese showed closest relations with other Asian populations. The Nicobarese also were observed to share close genetic relations with adjacent Indo-Mongoloid populations of Northeast India.[41] Bulbeck (2013) likewise noted that the Andamanese's nuclear DNA clusters with that of other Andamanese Islanders, as they carry a unique branch of Haplogroup D (D-M174*) and maternal M (mtDNA).[40]


The use of single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) shows that the genome of Andamanese people is closest to those of other Oceanic Negrito groups and distinct from South Asians and East Asians. This suggests that there is no relation between Andaman islanders and ancient South Asians or East Asian groups.[40] Analysis of mtDNA, which is inherited exclusively by maternal descent, confirms the above results. All Onge belong to M32 mtDNA, subgroup of M which is unique to Onge people.[42]

Most Andamanese belong to MtDNA M and Y-DNA D, which expanded at the late Pleistocene.[42][45][46]

Reich et al. (2009) speculate the Andamanese split from mainland Asia 1,700 generations ago.[45] Andamanese are the only South Asian population in the study that lacked any Ancestral North Indian admixture.[45] But according to Basu et al. (2016), the populations of the Andaman Islands archipelago form a distinct ancestry, which is "coancestral to Oceanic populations and not close to South Asians (India)."[47]

Y DNA[edit]

Migration routes of haplogroup D branches

The male Y-chromosome in humans is inherited exclusively through paternal descent. All sampled males of Onges (23/23) and Jarawas (4/4) belong to Paragroup D-M174*(xD-M55,D-M15),[48][49][50][51]. However, male Great Andamanese do not appear to carry the gene. A low resolution study suggests that they belong to haplogroups K, L, O and P1 (P-M45).[52]

Mitochondrial DNA[edit]

Analysis of mtDNA, which is inherited exclusively by maternal descent, confirms the above results. All Andamanese belong to M31 and M32 mtDNA, subgroup of M which is unique to Andamanese people.[40][42] The analysis of 20 coding regions in 20 samples of ancient Andamanese people and 12 samples of modern Indian populations changed the topology of the two lineages in South Asians. The data received suggests an M31a lineage in South Asians and in East Asians.[53] Other mainland specific subgroups of M are distributed in Asia, where they represent 60% of all maternal lineages.[52][54][55] According to Endicott et al. (2002), this haplogroup originated with the earliest settlers of India during the coastal migration that brought the ancestors of the Andamanese to the Indian mainland, the Andaman Islands, and farther afield to Southeast Asia.[56]

Denisovan and Neandertal heritage[edit]

Unlike some Negrito populations of Southeast Asia, Andaman Islanders were previously thought to have no Denisovan ancestry.[57] However, one study in 2019 estimated that Andaman Islanders possess greater than 1% Denisovan and Neandertal ancestry.[58] A later 2019 study found that all Asian and Australo-Papuan populations, including Andaman Islanders, share between 2.6 to 3.4% of the genetic profiles of a previously unknown hominin that was genetically roughly equidistant to Denisovans and Neandertals.[59]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chaubey and Endicott (2013):[4]
    * "these estimates suggest that the Andamans were settled less than ~26 ka and that differentiation between the ancestors of the Onge and Great Andamanese commenced in the Terminal Pleistocene." (p.167)
    * "In conclusion, we find no support for the settlement of the Andaman Islands by a population descending from the initial out-of-Africa migration of humans, or their immediate descendants in South Asia. It is clear that, overall, the Onge are more closely related to Southeast Asians than they are to present-day South Asians." (p.167)


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  57. ^ Choi, Charles (22 September 2011), Now-Extinct Relative Had Sex with Humans Far and Wide, LiveScience
  58. ^ Mondal, Mayukh (16 January 2019), Approximate Bayesian computation with deep learning supports a third archaic introgression in Asia and Oceania, Nature Communications
  59. ^ Teixeira, Joao (17 June 2019), Using hominin introgression to trace modern human dispersals, PNAS

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