Onge people

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Total population
(101 (Census of India 2011)[1])
Regions with significant populations
western side of Little Andaman Island
traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
other Andamanese peoples, particularly Jarawa
A young Onge mother with her child
A depiction of Onge people in Kolkata Museum

The Onge (also Önge, Ongee, and Öñge) 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 (fewer 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.[5]:51[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] Infant and child mortality is in the range of 40%.[9] The net reproductive index for the Onge is 0.91.[10] For comparison, the net reproductive index among the Great Andamanese is 1.40.[11]

In 1901, there were 672 Onge; 631 in 1911, 346 in 1921, 250 in 1931, and 150 in 1951.[12][13]


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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[16]

Bhopinder Singh, the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman Islands, has ordered an inquiry into the incident.[17]


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.[18] As of 2006, there were 94 Onge speakers[19] confined to a single settlement in the northeast of Little Andaman Island (see map above), making it an endangered language.


The Andamanese are believed to represent the original migrations which, about 60,000 years ago, brought the first modern humans out of Africa to the Andaman Islands. Analysis of mtDNA, which is inherited exclusively by maternal descent, confirms the above results. There were mutations here that are found nowhere else in the world.[20] All Onge belong to M32 mtDNA, subgroup of M which is unique to Onge people.[21] While parental Y-DNA is exclusively Haplogroup D.[22]

According to the genome-wide study in 2009, Andamanese split from mainland Asia around 48,500 years ago[22] All Onge belong to MtDNA M and Y-DNA Haplogroup D [21][22][23]

Onge are unique in that they were the only population in the study that lacked Y-DNA Haplogroup CF and Haplogroup F.[22] The authors thus suggest that the peopling of Andaman islands must have occurred before the appearance of Haplogroup CF and Haplogroup F and its descendants, around 60,000 ybp to 50,000 ybp.[22]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "List of notified Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). Census India. p. 27. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  3. ^ George Weber, the Tribes. Chapter 8 in The andamanese. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  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. ^ Pandya, Vishvajit (1993). Above the Forest: A Study of Andamanese Ethnoanemology, Cosmology, and the Power of Ritual. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-562971-2. 
  6. ^ "अंडमान में जनजातियों को ख़तरा" [Tribes endangered in the Andamans] (in Hindi). BBC News. 30 December 2004. Retrieved 25 November 2008. 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]. 
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Mann, Rann Singh (2005). Andaman and Nicobar Tribes Restudied. ISBN 978-81-8324-010-9. 
  9. ^ "Ecocide or Genocide? The Onge in the Andaman Islands". Cultural Survival. Retrieved 4 March 2016. 
  10. ^ A. N. Sharma (2003), Tribal Development in the Andaman Islands, page 64. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi.
  11. ^ A. N. Sharma (2003), Tribal Development in the Andaman Islands, page 72. Sarup & Sons, New Delhi.
  12. ^ "Journal of Social Research". 19. Council of Social and Cultural Research, Ranchi University Department of Anthropology, Bihar. 1976. Retrieved 25 November 2008. 
  13. ^ "Little Andaman: a chronology". Frontline. Chennai, India. 16 (9). 1999. ISSN 0970-1710. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ Bhaumik, Subir (9 December 2008). "Alcohol error hits Andamans tribe". BBC News. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  16. ^ a b Buncombe, Andrew (12 December 2008). "Washed-up poison bottle kills eight members of island tribe" (online edition). The Independent. London. Retrieved 12 December 2008. 
  17. ^ "Inquiry ordered into death of Onge tribesmen". The Hindu. 11 December 2008. Archived from the original on 3 January 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2008. 
  18. ^ "The Colonisation of Little Andaman Island". Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  19. ^ Lewis, M. Paul; Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2013). "Öñge". Ethnologue: Languages of the World: (17th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016. 
  20. ^ Perur, Srinath (13 December 2013). "The origins of Indians" (PDF). Fountain Ink. 
  21. ^ a b M. Phillip Endicott; Thomas P. Gilbert; Chris Stringer; Carles Lalueza-Fox; Eske Willerslev; Anders J. Hansen; Alan Cooper (2003). "The Genetic Origins of the Andaman Islanders" (PDF). American Journal of Human Genetics. 72 (1): 178–184. doi:10.1086/345487. PMC 378623free to read. PMID 12478481. Retrieved 21 April 2009. The HVR‑1 data separate them into two lineages, identified on the Indian mainland ... as M4 and M2 ... The Andamanese M2 contains two haplotypes ... developed in situ, after an early colonization ... Alternatively, it is possible that the haplotypes have become extinct in India or are present at a low frequency and have not yet been sampled, but, in each case, an early settlement of the Andaman Islands by an M2‑bearing population is implied ... The Andaman M4 haplotype ... is still present among populations in India, suggesting it was subject to the late Pleistocene population expansions.... 
  22. ^ a b c d e 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 2842210free to read. PMID 19779445. 
  23. ^ Moorjani, Priya; Kumarasamy Thangaraj; Nick Patterson; Alkes L. Price; Lalji Singh; David Reich (5 September 2013). "Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India". American Journal of Human Genetics. 93 (3): 422–438. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2013.07.006. PMC 3769933free to read. PMID 23932107.