Jarawa language (Andaman Islands)

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Not to be confused with Jarawa language (Nigeria).
Native to India
Region Andaman Islands; interior and south central Rutland island, central interior and south interior of South Andaman island, Middle Andaman island, west coast, 70 square km reserve.
Ethnicity Jarawa
Native speakers
270 (2001–2002)[1]
Literacy rate in L1: Below 1%.
  • Jarawa
Language codes
ISO 639-3 anq
Glottolog jara1245[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Järawa or Jarwa is an Ongan language spoken by the Jarawa people of the interior and south central Rutland Island, central interior and south interior South Andaman Island, and the west coast of Middle Andaman Island.

Järawa means 'foreigners' in Aka-Bea, the language of their traditional enemies. Like many peoples, they call themselves simply aong "people".

According to the Endangered Languages Project, the Jarawa Language of the Andaman Islands is vulnerable.[3]

People & Use[edit]

Jarawa is a language used mainly by hunter-gatherer communities who would live along the western coast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.[4]

The Jarawas are somewhat hostile towards outsiders and sometimes accessible to Indian linguists.[5]

The Jarawas are the only remaining Negrito remnants of the Andaman Islands out of four. Other than being having a history as traditional hunter-forager-fishermen, they also had reputations as warriors and uncompromising defenders of their territory. The Jarawas lived through lived through British encroachment in the 19th century, as well as Japanese occupation later on.[6]

Jarawas have only a population of 270 remaining. Their primary threat is a highway, Andaman Trunk Road, running through their territory and reserve of 1,028 square kilometers of dense evergreen forests.[7]


In the past 50 years, Islam has been the rising as the religion adopted by the Jarawa people.[8]

Hunting & Diet[9][edit]

As the Jarawas are a nomadic tribe, they hunt endemic wild pigs, monitor lizards, and other quarry with bows and arrows. They would keep no dogs to help hunting, until recently to become more similar to the Ones and Andamanese.

Since this is an island tribe, food sources in the ocean are highly important to them. Men would fish with bows and arrows in shallow water. Women would catch fish with baskets.

Mollusks, dugongs, and turtles are a major part of the Jarawa diet. Besides meat and seafood, Jarawas love to collect fruit, tubers, and honey from the forest. In order to get the honey from the bees, they would use a plant extract to calm the bees.

The Jarawa bow, made of chuiood (Sageraca elliptica) is also known as "aao" in their own language. The arrow is called "Patho." The wooden head of the arrow is made of Arecca Wood. To make the iron head arrow, called "Aetaho" in their language, they use iron and Areca wood or babmo. Their chest guard in order to go hunting or for any raids is called "kekad." [10]



Jarawas lived in huts made of palm fronds and bamboo. The villages would consist of 10 huts each.

To cross stream and rivers, they would use crude rafts. To swim, the Jarawas would use a leaf stem of the thuuya plant.

The Andaman Islanders used stone tool technology, according to archaeological evidence. Bones and animal teeth were also used as tools, dating back to 2,000 years.

Ornamentation in the Jarawa culture became an obligatory practice and it is generally simple and community specific.


The Jarawas use no musical instrument and their songs are community-specific in nature. All member participate in singing and there are no gender differences observed. Song composition is mainly isorhythmic in structure and a single rhythm is repeated.


The Jarawas have rhythmic and intricate dance movements that are monotonous. They stand in a row holding each other closely, jumping one step forward and then backward, rhythmically. Men and women do not dance together. Children, married, and unmarried all dance separately as well.


The Jarawas have no system of writing. In observed designs, wavy lines would represent the sea and therefore only drawings or pictures would be drawn to communicate.

Illness & Decline of the Jarawas[12][edit]

In September 1999, 48% of a population of 350 Jarawas fell ill and passed away due to a measles epidemic.

In 2001, febrile illness among the Jarawas led to a malariological survey which detected Plasmodium falciparum in the blood of 30 out of 179 tribe people examined. This tribe never experienced malaria, and it seemed that the malarial parasites were a new occurrence for them. This has caused the fading of their long social and geographical isolation.

The Supreme Court of India ordered that the Andaman Trunk Road that passes through today's Jarawa Reserve be closed to general traffic.

The most recent problem has been taming the Jarawa. The raids have become more frequent due to shortage of game and other food material.[13]


There are two varieties of Jarawa languages. One is spoken in the northern Middle Andaman and southern Middle Andaman.[14]

Jarawa has six vowels and sixteen consonants, along with possible additional retroflexes, aspirates, and/or another vowel phoneme.[15]

The language stems from a parent language known as Proto-Andamanese. From within this wide range, Little Andamanese also stems. Within Little Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa, and Sentinelese all stem, thus having similar characteristics in culture and language.[16]


Front Central Back
Close i   u
Close-mid e o
Mid   ə  
Open   a  

The language of Jarawa uses close (high), mid, and open to distinguish between the height of the vowels. For the tongue position, they characterize vowels as front, central, and back. For the position of lips, vowels are characterized as rounded or unrounded.[17]


Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
plain lab.
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless p t c k
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Fricative h (hʷ)
Trill r
Approximant l j w


Word-initial contrast between /p/ and /b/ is disappearing, with /p/ becoming /b/ (note that in Onge /p/ is not phonemically present).[18]

Jarawa words are at least monosyllabic, and content words are at least bimoraic.[18] Maximal syllables are CVC.[18]

/c/ voices intervocalically in derived environments, /ə/ syncopates when followed by another vowel across a morpheme boundary, /ə/ becomes [o] when the next syllable has a round vowel, and whole syllables may be deleted in fast speech.[18]


Kinship is very important in the Jarawa society. They would use special words for each member of their kin. For mother, "kaya." For father, "aamume." The elders refer to younger brothers and sisters as "aaikota" while elder siblings are called "maapo." The younger ones are addressed by their own names.[19]



  • Blevins, Juliette (2007), "A Long Lost Sister of Proto-Austronesian? Proto-Ongan, Mother of Jarawa and Onge of the Andaman Islands", Oceanic Linguistics, 46 (1): 154–198, doi:10.1353/ol.2007.0015 
  • Kumar, Pramod (2012), "Descriptive and Typological Study of Jarawa." Jawaharlal Nehru University (2012): 1-360. Web.
  • "Jarawa." Database for Indigenous Cultural Evolution. 1-8. Web.
  • Conant, F. (1961). Jarawa Kin Systems of Reference and Address: A Componential Comparison. Anthropological Linguistics, 3(2), 19-33. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30022298
  • Sreenathan, M., Rao, V., & Bednarik, R. (2008). Palaeolithic Cognitive Inheritance in Aesthetic Behavior of the Jarawas of the Andaman Islands. Anthropos, 103(2), 367-392. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40467418
  • Zide, N., & Pandya, V. (1989). A Bibliographical Introduction to Andamanese Linguistics. Journal of the American Oriental Society,109(4), 639-651. doi:10.2307/604090
  • Sarkar, S. (1962). The Jarawa of the Andaman Islands. Anthropos, 57(3/6), 670-677. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40455833
  • Abbi, A. (2013). A Grammar of the Great Andamanese Language: An Ethnolinguistic Study.

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