The Great Andamanese
The Great Andamanese Body Features
They are dark of skin, so dark as to be almost black, and smooth; woolly haired, with hair so crinkly that
it appears to grow in tufts; and short. The average Andaman tribal male of pure descent is recorded as being
on the average about 4 feet, 10.5 inches tall, with a weight of 96lb., and the female 4 feet 6 inches, and 87lb.
A remarkable characteristic is high body temperature, generally near 100 degree F, higher in younger man and in women.
Another feature, one which they share with the autochthons of Africa, is steatopygia, the more visible because they
remain naked. Only the women among great Andamanese wearing a girdle of pandanus leaves and among the Onges a tassle
of split cane leaves in front. The main adornment is with clay, white clay or red ochre mixed with pig or turtle fat,
applied to the body in numerous and sometimes intricate geometrical designs that appealed to vanity, and for multifarious
reasons, sometime to celebrate a victorious hunt, an event or a feast, sometimes to ward off the ill-effects of overeating.
Origin of The Great Andamanese
Great Andamanese are most enigmatic of human races. A recent analyses of the Andamanese mitochondrial DNA has confronted their long standing isolation and has corroborated the fact that they are more closely related to the south African Khoisan(formerly known as Bushman and hottentot) than to their Asian neighbors, making them a major new argument for the 'OUT OF AFRICA' theory of common human origin.
The Andamanese were the first people to fight against the outsiders (Britishers) on the island and also the first to come in friendly relation with the outsiders (Britishers).
In 1969 the Andaman and Nicobar Administration settled the wandering Andamanese in a small island called 'Strait Island'.
The Great Andamanese Territory
Indigenously the Andamanese aborigines had limited territory. Members of one group were almost unaware of details of the neighboring group. If a member of one tribe found himself accidentally adrift in his canoe, reaching the beach of another tribe he would be killed. Most borders between the territories were fixed and one tribe need permission to enter the other region. All the territorial bands can broadly be divided into two viz. Aryoto(Shore dwellers) and Eremtaga(Forest dwellers). The Andamanese tribal groups inhabited the Andaman Islands from north to south are Kari, Kora, Bo or Tabo, Teru, Kede, Juwai, Kol, Puckiwar, Balawa and Bea.
The Andamanese do not build huts of a permanent nature. The communal hut of Great Andamanese is almost round. The roof is thatched with varieties of cane leaves, dry leaves and comes down to the ground which becomes also the wall of hut. The hut is supported by the wooden or bamboo piles from inside. The communal hut is simply consisted of a large number of sleeping platforms and fire places. The temporary or semi permanent shelter consists of a sloping thatched roof under which there is a fire place and small sleeping platform.
Food of The Great Andamanese
The Great Andamanese are indigenously non-Vegetarian. Their staple food consists of fish, pig, crab, dugong, shellfish, turtle egg, and tubers etc.
Presently, deer is not found easily in the island. The tribal's as observed wait for a deer in appropriate season to hunt who often come to the island by swimming from opposite islands. The eggs of birds are also collected to consume.
Table Staple Food of Andamanese to be created in code
Dress of The Great Andamanese
The Great Andamanese are presently do not stay naked. Now women generally wear lungies and blouses but they are sometime seen in either sarees with brassier and blouse or Salwar-Kamiz. Men wear shorts or lungies with vests and shirts but the young people full trousers with belt and shirts.
The men wear belts of bark fiber decorated with small shells while the women wear belts of pandanus leaves with some bark or leaves attached to it with the purpose to cover their breast. Painting the face was common in ancient period among the Great Andamanese. They decorate their bodies with Zig-Zag or other designs with clay paint specially tol-odu, a kind of white clay. In the turtle hunting festival young girls decorate their faces with clay.
The tribes of South Andaman cut their bodies with small flakes of quartz or glass in pattern of Zig-Zag or straight lines running up and down the body or limb. In the Zig-Zag design only two lines are made, the cut being incised at obstuse angels to each other's and thus forming something like our "dog-tooth" pattern. The making of the pattern depends on the individual test of women cutting them, but the face and ears, genitals, arms, and knee pits are not cut…. Women are "Tattooed" in the same way as men. The non Andaman groups of tribes have a different system of tattooing. The cut with them made by the men with the head of a pig arrow and are severe and deep. But the tradition of making incision on body has been given up by the Great Andamanese and clay painting could be seen very rarely among them.
Marriage ceremony of The Great Andamanese
The marriage ceremony is simple and has nothing religious about it. As soon as the older of a tribe gets to know that a young couple interested in each others would like to get married, the bride-to-be is taken to a newly built hut. And there she sits while the bridegroom runs away into a jungle. After some seeming struggle and feigned hesitation he is persuaded to come back and made to sit in the bride's lap and that is it. They are now married. The marriage is strictly binding but, after death of either party other can remarry.
Close consanguineous marriage is forbidden among the Great Andamanese but marriage with a distant cousin is allowed. Most importantly consent of elders is essential for marriage negotiations, though the girl's and boys opinions are also considered important. The Great Andamanese do not wear any marriage symbol indigenously. Marriage is permitted for widows, widowers and divorcees. The practice of child adoption was once common among them but this is rare now for the reason of depopulation.
Rituals /Customs of The Great Andamanese
The Great Andamanese have retained some traditional customs in life rituals. During the advances stage of her pregnancy a women is advised to sleep besides the hearth or open fire in the room. Before the delivery, a temporary hut is constructed beside the main hut. A fire is kept inside the hut to keep it warm. All the time of the delivery, only elderly females attend on the women. After delivery, the mother is not allowed to do any work for about a fortnight, the child is given a name even before birth; as the nearest male relatives or a friend of the family might request the couple to name their future child after him. In this way the Great Andamanese try to perpetuate their names.
On reaching adolescence, a youth is banned for some time for eating fish of particularly variety of turtle and some other foods. The ban is enforced only for a specific period and ends with ceremony. Adolescent boys are called Khilmil. An adolescent girl is given a new name, usually that of a flower of a season.
Burial systems of The Great Andamanese
Their burial systems were somewhat quaint. A dead child is buried under the floor of the parental hut. The period of mourning after a death is three months. Indigenously the dead body of an elder generally tied in the tree was marked and festonned with cane leaves and for about three months no one visited the area. During the period of mourning which lasted about three months there was no dancing are any other festivity. At the end of it the remains of the corpse was taken down from the tree, the bones were washed, broken into sizeable pieces and used as ornaments. They were supposed to have therapeutic value also, as their mere touch could stop pain and cure disease. But now they generally do not shift out of their huts as they are constructed by the local administration with galvanized iron sheets and commented floors.
Family is the only unit of social organization among the present day Great Andamanese. Earlier a group of families, consisting of 40 to 50 persons used to form a social division which Redcliff Brown called the "Local Group".
Livelihood of The Great Andamanese
In the past hunting, fishing and gathering were the economic activities among the Great Andamanese. The leader of the hunting and gathering group used to be addressed as erjum. The erjum is not a hereditary positions but it was only the eldest man among the elders who was chosen for the position.
"Canoes are made generally in the month of August and September and it takes about eight men nearly a fortnight to hallow out a canoe and form the prow. (The prow is for spearing fish and turtle). They generally select a tree trunk of anything between ten to thirty in length. First they remove the bark and then with an edge they shape the exterior of the canoe as also its prow. After that the interior is scooped out also with an adze. At the bottom level the canoes are about one and a half to three inches thick. They always use an outrigger, which helps maintain the balance.
The outrigger is attached to a canoe by three or four pieces of wood, which pass through its interior. When alongside are shores the canoes are propelled by means of the haft of the harpoon spear which is used for catching fish when in deep water, paddles are used".
Religion of The Great Andamanese
The religion of the Andmanese is still partial animistic. The Great Andamanese believe in mythical beings like Biliku, Tarai, Puluga and Daria, the related legends and mythical powers controlling the natural forces and the Andamanese "Lau" is the name of an evil spirit. The Great Andamanese believe that their anger causes storm and rain. "biliku: lives in a rock cave located in the English Island. In the past they would start collecting roots and fruits only offering the first product of the year to Biliku, a practice that does not exist now. There is another spirit called 'Tharaye" by the Great Andamanese.
As per the Great Andamanese belief, at the beginning, the earth was created and then the plants and the animals. Puluga (God) then created a man named Tomo. As instructed by God to Adam and Eve, similarly Puluga showed a particular garden to Tomo, the first man and told him not to eat the fruit of that garden which owned by Totachemi. Puluga also guided Tomo how to light fire by rubbing two pieces of Chom and Bel against each other. Before lighting fire Puluga asked Tomo to invoke Chana-Bi-Bhi (mother of son). As long as the fire burns, she stays there. Puluga sent his followers La-chi and Punga-au-bhola to Tomo to teach him the process of lighting fire and cooking pig's meat. Puluga created a woman to accompany 'Tomo' whose name was Chan-Aa-Ei-Labadie. Some present Great Andamanese old members say that she came to Bid Island and there she gave birth to several children. Tomo had two sons and two daughters. The sons were Riola and Romila. It is Puluga who taught the Great Andamanese the art of making bow, arrow and canoe etc.
One band believes that Puluga lives with his wife in a big stone house in the sky. He is immortal. It is also believed that when the Great Andamanese were learning the things Puluga lived on Saddle Peak Mountain. He gave the Adamanese their language the Puckiwar. The name of this tribe means "those who talk the original language" or they who speak the Andamanese language. It has been believed that (may be quite correct) that Puckiwar was closest to the native tongue. This legend reveals that the Great Andamanese are aware that they were once have a single language.
There is another evil spirit which is called 'Jirmu' by them. Instead of worshipping the spirit that Great Andamanese had practiced some protective measures. They used to pray to their ancestors to do the needful to control the spirit and to protect them from any harm. Among the spirits, the Biliku is the main one. Strength of such belief is no more prevalent among the tribal youths presently.