There are six aboriginal tribes on the islands, some barely in existence, but all fascinating for their roots, their customs and their traditions.
The Onge,the Great Andamese, the Sentinelese and the Jarawa are quite short with curly hair and are very black.
The Nicobarese and the Shompen are lighter skinned and have straight hair.
Anthropologist could write entire books about them and make them the subject of their life's work.
I will only give you some of the information I picked up from this book.
The Great Andamese is a collective name for about ten sub tribes. In 1969 apparently only 19 were left and it was at that point that the government relocated them to Straits island and since then their numbers have grown but their old way of life has practically died. They cry out loudly when they meet and blow softly on each others hands when they are saying goodbye. There must be more to those forms of greeting then meets the eye but what a great way to do it- shouts of joy at meeting and then a gentle blow to set you on your way.
The Onge -live on Little Andaman and their name means "Perfect Man." They are rumoured to be the darkest men alive- I have no idea if this is true or not but some pictures of them would suggest so. They hunt and fish and collect plants and roots. They have an excellent knowledge of medicinal plants and apparently even know how to keep malaria at bay.
The Jarawas - Are considered to be hostile and inaccessible. They are now concentrated in the Jarawa Reserve on South and Middle Andaman where they can be seen occasionally on the Andaman Trunk road which sadly has been built through the reserve. They are hunter gatherers but their food is devoid of salt and sugar which is unusual and I am sure that alone would provide some interesting research. They dread death and disease and bury their dead in very shallow graves with the head and legs exposed. They eventually exhume the lower jaw which they wear around their necks and waists. The most memorable fact for me is that they greet each other by sitting in each other's laps !
The Sentinelese - live in complete isolation on North Sentinel island. They live off the sea and are considered to be probably the tribe most protective of their way of life and have been hostile to any intervention or contact with the outside world.
The Nicobarese- Folklore talks about them being descendants of a Burmese princess. Dogs are central to the folklore and treated kindly. Their world is steeped in festivals and traditions over the year, each season bringing different celebrations and they believe that evil spirits are afraid of the naked man so if they sense an evil spirit they will strip naked to drive it away !
The Shompen - live in the forests of Great Nicobar and are hunter gatherers. The book said they number about 300 and they dress in red loin cloths and bead necklaces.
I was captivated by their lives, customs and traditions, but clearly very few if any people have contact with any of them. Its a difficult call, interfering, introducing new ways of life or leaving them be.
The pictures are from the web:
Onge women wearing bushes and facial paint
The Jarawas around 2004 Photo Wilhelm Klein.