Onge ,Indigenous tribe of Andaman and Nicobar Islands


Onge Tribe of Andaman


onge women onge tribe family

Origin of Onge Tribe of Andaman Nicobar Islands

The onges, a negrito tribe are inhabiting the Little Andaman Island in Andaman District. The island has a geographical area of 731.5 sq.km is situated between 10 Degree 30' and 10 Degree 56' north latitude and 92 Degree 28' and 92 Degree 35' east longitude at a distance of about 100 km from the capital Port Blair. The Little Andaman Island is almost flat and there is no mountain with no river.
The presence of coral reefs around this island provides evidence of its emergence from the sea bed. The Onges were nomadic primitive peopleliing in groups or bands in several parts of Little Andaman Island. The byres(Onge hut) were constructed both near the coast and in the interior of the island.
The Onges call themselves "Eniregale" which means 'obsolute man'. The Onges may be considered only one of their kind in the present world of negritos in terms of their complexion, short statue, presence of steatopygia(extra growth of buttock) among both the sexes, always being in happy mood. They have very less body hair on their parts. Their eyes are bright and big.

Livelihood Onge Tribe of Andaman Nicobar Islands

The Onges are pure hunter-gatherers. They are not aware of agriculture.That they are an ancient people is evident, as already indicated from the presence of calcified shells at the base of their kitchen-middens. The Onge eat mostly natural food in which the island abounds. They are very fond of jackfruit, Yam, pandanus ect. The leaves of Pandanus sometime provide roofing for Onge shelters. They particularly like pilchards. They catch mollusks, Crustacea, lobsters, crayfish and crabs even some kind of hermit crab. They eat cicada too. They collect the pupae which are supposed to be a great Threat.
It is noteworthy that in the indigenous diet items of the Onge menu - birds, crocodiles, lizards, jungle cats, bats, rats and snakes are not included because they harbor spirit of dead or malevolent spirits, as per Onge beliefs.

Onge Attire and Fashion

The Onges were mother naked earlier, besides the presence of loin, nylon and cotton clothes among them, the Onge still had no proper concept of dress to cover the body for protection. The women have traditionally used the indigenous 'nakinyage' a tassel made of tender palm leaves to cover their genitals. After they came in contact with outsiders, they adopted the hapit of wearing modern clothes to same extent. Now the Onge males started wearing colorful shirts, trousers, vests etc. and females wear lungies, blouses, maxis and skirts (young girls) etc. the Onge women still do not go for under garments.
The Onges do not tattoo themselves, but use clay mixed with water to smear their entire bodies and draw patterns either with it or with red orchre mixed with turtle or pigs' fat. The traditional practice of painting the body and face is still present among the Onges. It is a special job of women. The read ochre or white clay which is commonly used in painting is called 'alame' by the Onge. The necklace of dentalium of tusk shell is an important traditional ornament of the Onge women. On ceremonial occasion both men and women wear round their waits the traditional apparel 'Keye' made with stripof cane and colored bark fiber. The head band called 'ataki' is also worn by both the sexes.
The Onges now use wrist atches, shoes, sunglasses, sleepers, wrist bands and caps etc., which is of course and outcome of the Onge-non-Onge contact.

Onge Canoe

The making of canoe is an important event in Onge life. The tree selected for canoe making belong ones on the way. The Onges always keep with them their bows and arrows. The boe species of sterculia. It is first felled and then hollowed ot with the help of simple hatchet. The Onges pay great deal of attention when making the outrigger or the float along with the canoe because its object is to prevent the canoe from capsizing. Launching the decorated canoe is ceremonial function. The Float or Outrigger is made of either Hibiscus tiliacus or Sterculia villose. At the time when the canoe first time going out to sea the Onge pray to the benevolent spirit to save their canoe from storm or any mishap.
The Onges earlier used to make trip with their canoes to fish and hunt as far north as Rutland island over 60 km of the open sea. Such trips were possible only because of a number of small islands are placed conveniently like stepping stone on the way.

Onge bows and arrows

The Onges always keep with them bows and arrows. The bows are fashioned from a living trunk of a large tree called Mimusops littoralis or Pterocarpur dalbergodies and the string from long thin stripes of a particular kind of bark which is twisted together. Different varieties of arrow are made by the Onges for hunting and fishing. For hunting they use detachable arrow head and shaft arrow with the object being not only to shoot the animal with it, but also to ensure that it does not escape into the thick jungle. The fishing arrow of the Onges is called 'Korange'. The arrow head is made of slender iron rods of not more than 4 cm, but the head of arrow is found very sharp edged.

Onge Ritual

A ritual 'getenkare' commences between February and March. The Onge believe that the ritual alone ensures the pregnancy of women. There is a strong indigenous concept among the Onges in the context of birth.
A spirit called 'Onkobowkwe' sends souls of unborn babies to the wombs of Onge women through a certain way. As per Onge belief, Onkobowkwe lives in Honey comb and when Onge women take the honey in her diet, soul sent by the spirit enters into her womb which causes her pregnancy.
In spite of their knowledge of conception through sexual intercourse they believe that a woman cannot conceive unless Onkobowkwe desires it.
On the other hand a childless woman Is believed to be the victim of the curse of Onkobowkwe. This makes honey most important diet item among the Onges.
Interestingly when a matured beehive is seen they climb up the tree without providing any protection to their bare bodies and here the nature has come to their rescue. There grow bushes of a plant called 'tonjoghe' all over Little Andaman islands. All they have to do is to chew some of the leaves of tonjoghe and smear the pulp all over their bodies even in their har. Some they spit at the bee. This provides to them complete protection from bee attack.

Onge Pregnancy Ritual

At an advanced stage of pregnancy an Onge women goes through the ritual of the 'gotechele' or 'ghotachelia'(rao, 1960, Roy and Ganguli, 1961) when she is ritually offered some items of food(Pork, turtle meat, etc) by any man, woman or child. The food is offered repeatedly and each time the woman spits it out after chewing. The person who offers the food enters into a kind of ceremonial or putative relationship with the child to be born. By ritually offering food to the pregnant woman the person becomes the 'gutarande' or ' gutarange' of the child. Once it is born. The child on the other hand would become the 'galankare' of the gutarandi. Except for the special signature of this relationship during the performance of the birth and death rituals of the persons involved in it nothing more could be learnt about it.

Onge Child Birth Ritual

For delivery of child a particular hut is chosen. The young unmarried girls are allowed to witness the child birth. Experienced Onge women as we call in our society 'dai' come forward to assist the mother. 'batage' leaves are spread all over the body of mother and on the ground for the parturition of the child safely. After the baby is delivered the umbilical cord is cut with a sharp indigenous bamboo or cane knife. But now iron knife or new shaving blade is used for this purpose. The navel of the baby is fermented with palms warned in the fire of burning resin and then baby is gently cleaned with soft leaves of the 'Tejomo' or 'Taikutu' tree.
The placenta is buried in the ground around. The mother after the delivery and disposal of placenta is asked to sit on the bed of dry, warmed leaves. The belly of the mother is comfortably tied with bark strips of the 'Taibotilebe' or 'tej' tree to bring back the uterus and abdomen into normal state. For a certain period she is strictly restricted to consume meats, and other edible items as directed by the elder members of the community.

Onge Tanagiru Ritual

The discussion on Onge ritual is incomplete if the "tanagiru" ritual is not mentioned. The end of the journey of an Onge member from odolescence to adulthood of life Is marked by performance of a ritual called "tanagiru". Generally when a boy reaches at the age of 14or 15 or 16 years he has to go through this ritual.
In the "tanagiru" the boy must go to forest and return with wild boar with his party, but path of coming must be different the way he went. After his coming with prey he is priorly asked to enter communal hut not through the main entrance but a back opening. The elder brother or brother-in-law of the boy helped him to sit on the belly of the pig inside the hut.
The boy as per ritual will not talk to anybody. He then drinks the clotted blood of pig frequently. After the boy took ceremonial bath in the sea the boy's brother-in-law or elder brother cut the hunted pig into certain pieces and share among themselves. The day after the boy is indigenously adorned and decorated by sister-in-law or substitute. Clay painting can also be seen on this occasion on the body of the boy.
The boy is then carried to the sea by the male members of the community and he is made dipped trice in the waist level sea water by the brother-in-law and others. Then his clay painted face is washed by his brother-in-law. Now he has to come out the shore line where on sand some wooden logs of less than a meter in length separately kept straightly in the row.
Each log has a certain distance from another. The boy has to cross carefully these logs one by one without giving touch to any log with the feet. Again the boy is decorated particularly by his sister-in-law(Elder brother's wide).
He enters the communal hut not through the main entrance but other opening. While entering the hut his hands should be stored on his chest. The end of the "Tanagiru" is not actually here at this point. He has to kill total twenty female pigs (Some Onge said 18-19 female pigs) to reach complete adulthood as per the ritual. After the killing of the prescribed number of wild boars again some ritual parts the boy has to go through. The boy, his elder brother or brother-in-law and his sister-in-law or substitute have some dietary restrictions during the "Tanagiru" ceremony. This is a very brief mention of the Tanagiru ceremony which generally goes for more than ten days, and during these days several micro parts of the ritual are performed and which are still un researched. It is another interesting fact that previously the Tanagiru was performed on many married Onge youths on different occasions. Thus it cannot be said that this ritual is restricted to any marital status.

Onge Girls Puberty Ritual

When a girl attacins puberty the Onges perform certain rites and tituals. Redcliff Brown, author of "Andaman Islands - A Social Study" (1922), described it in these words.
"On the occurrence of the first menstrual discharge the girl tells her parents, who weep over her. She must then go and bathe in the sea for an hour to two by herself. After that she goes back parents' hut or to a special shelter put up for the occasion. She is not required to go away from the camp.
All ornaments are removed from her, only a single belt of pandanus leaf is attached round her waist, with an apron of cainyo leaves. Stripes of pandanus leaf are attached round her arms near shoulder and round her waist, and others are placed as bands crossing her chest from shoulder to the waist on the opposite side, and crossing her abdomen from the iliac crest on the side to the trochanter on the other.
There are so attached that the long loose ends hang down at the girl side. Bunches of leaves, either celmo or if these be not available, poramo are fastened beneath her belt before and behind. Other leaves of the same kind are placed for her to sit upon. Thus covered with leaves the girl must sit in the hut allotted to her, with her legs doubled up beneath her and her arms folded. A piece of wood or bamboo is placed at her back for her to lean against, as she may not lie down. If she is cramped she may stretch one of her legs or one of her arms, but not both legs or both arms at the same time. To feed herself she may release one of her hands, but she must not take up food with her fingers; a skewer of cainyo wood is given her friends who sit near her to keep her from falling asleep. The girl sits thus for those days. Early every morning she leaves the hut to bathe for an hour in sea. At the end of those days she resumes her life in the village. For a month following, she must bathe in the sea every morning at dawn.

Onge Marriage

The Onges are monogamous and divorce does not exist among them. Like other Negritos once they are married sexual fidelity is the accepted mode. But of course, before marriage, the young mix freely and no exception is taken to promiscuity.
When it comes to the question of marriage, it can only take place with the consent of the family. Sometimes bride stays with her own parents after her marriage because of her small age.

Onge Death Ritual

Among the Onges after death, the corpse is buried under the bed of the deceased person, generally in the temporary hut. The married gallankare or gutarandi or any substitute of the deceased mainly performs the rituals particularly in disposal of the corpse. The grave place is selected under the bed of the dead person.
The dead body is positioned with folded knees, eyes covered with palm leaves then tied with 'kuebo' strips. Licuala palm which is called 'Tumeroe' in Onges are thrown over the corpse in the grave before closing it with earth. After months they dig up again the grave to receive the lower jaw of skeleton of the dead. A mandible is made with this jaw part and worn around the neck.
It rotates from one relative to another after few days. The duration of death mourning completes with a communal dance by male and female members. In dancing the Onges have no accompaniment, not even the sounding board like that of the Great Andamanese. Both men and women participate. They go round and round holding each other's hands and while they dance, they sing.

Onge Religion or Faith

The Onges have no clear concept of religion but they are animistic. They do not believe in sacrifice or propitiation. The Onges have their own legends. As per Akar-Bale belief, in the bery begning there was not night or darkness then one of their ancestors crushed a cicda and the cry of the insect brought darkness upon the work. However the souls of the ancestors are believed to be the tutelary spirits for them.
As per an Onge tale, they migrated out of Kalapahad because some supernatural power did not want them to stay there. After passing a long distance they reached a place called 'tambegey' and they did not stay there and moved further. Further they reached a beautiful place called 'Tokobuley' which is known as "Dugong Creek". They started living at this place.
One day to visit their old place 'Kalapahad' of south Andaman they made canoes with hard labor. When they reached amidst the way severe storm arose and as result many of their members lost their lives and several canoes destroyed. It was the anger of the evil spirit 'Tomale'. The escaped members began to worship toya-bog-lanko, the great supernatural power and the storm subsides. The sea became calm and the members returned back safely.


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