Andaman and Nicobar Islands
The Andaman & Nicobar Islands is a union territory of India. Informally, the territory’s name is often abbreviated to A & N Islands, or ANI. It is located in the Indian Ocean, in the southern reaches of the Bay of Bengal. It comprises two island groups – the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands – which separate the Andaman Sea to the east from the Indian Ocean. These two groups are separated by the 10° N parallel, the Andamans lying to the north of this latitude, and the Nicobars to the south. The capital of this territory is the Andamanese town of Port Blair.
The territory’s population as per the most recent (2001) Census of India was 356,152. Added together, the total land area of the territory is approximately 8,249 Sq. Km.
The name Andaman presumably comes from Handuman, which is Malay for the Hindu god Hanuman. The name Nicobar is Malay for land of the naked (people).
The Andaman and Nicobar islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earliest archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and linguistic isolation studies point to habitation going back 30,000 to 60,000 years, well into the Middle Paleolithic.
In the Andaman Islands, the various Andamanese peoples maintained their separated existence through the vast majority of this time, diversifying into distinct linguistic, cultural and territorial groups. By the 1850s when they first came into sustained contact by outside groups, the indigenous peoples of the Andamans were:
- the Great Andamanese, who collectively represented at least 10 distinct sub-groups and languages;
- the Jarawa;
- the Jangil (or Rutland Jarawa);
- the Onge; and
- the Sentinelese (most isolated of all the groups).
In total, these peoples numbered somewhere around 7,000 at the time of these first encounters. As the numbers of settlers from the mainland increased (at first mostly prisoners and involuntary indentured labourers, later purposely recruited farmers), these indigenous peoples lost territory and numbers in the face of land encroachment and the effects of various epidemic diseases. The Jangil and most of the Great Andamanese groups soon became extinct; presently there remain only approximately 400-450 indigenous Andamanese, the Jarawa and Sentinelese in particular maintaining a steadfast independence and refusing most attempts at contact.
The indigenous peoples of the Nicobars (unrelated to the Andamanese) have a similarly isolated and lengthy association with the islands. There are two main groups:
- the Nicobarese, or Nicobari, living throughout many of the islands; and
- the Shompen, restricted to the interior of Great Nicobar.
The islands provided a temporary maritime base for ships of the Marathas in the 17th century. The legendary privateer and admiral Kanhoji Angre harassed colonial shipping routes with a base in the islands.
British colonial period
After an initial attempt to set up a colony in the islands by the British was abandoned after only a few years (1789-1796), a second attempt from 1858 proved to be more permanent. The primary purpose was to set up a penal colony for dissenters and independence fighters from the Indian subcontinent.
The British used the islands as an isolated prison for members of the Indian independence movement. The mode of imprisonment was called Kalapani. The Cellular Jail in Port Blair was regarded as the “Siberia” of British India.
The islands were administered as a Chief Commissioner’s Province.
The British continued their occupancy until the Japanese Invasion and Occupation of the Andaman Islands during World War II.
The islands were nominally put under the authority of the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Netaji visited the islands during the war, and renamed them as “Shaheed” (Martyr) & “Swaraj” (Self-rule). General Loganathan, of the Indian National Army was made the Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 22 February,1944 he along with four INA officers-Major Mansoor Ali Alvi, Sub. Lt. Md. Iqbal, Lt. Suba Singh and stenographer Srinivasan arrived at Lambaline airport of Port Blair. On 21 March,1944 the Headquarters of the Civil Administration was established near the Gurudwara at Aberdeen Bazaar. On 2 October,1944, Col. Loganathan handed over the charge to Maj. Alvi and left Port Blair, never to return. (Ref. “Black Days in Andaman and Nicobar Islands” by Rabin Roychowdhury, Pub. Manas Pubs. New Delhi).
At Independence of both India (1947) and Burma (1948), the departing British announced their intention to resettle all Anglo-Indians and Anglo-Burmese on the islands to form their own nation, although this never materialized. It became an Indian union territory (UT) in 1950.
On 26 December 2004 the coasts of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated by a 10 metre high tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. At least 7,000 people (possibly a conservative estimate) were believed to have been killed on the Nicobar and Andaman Islands during the disaster.
There are over 570 islands in the territory, of which only some 38 are permanently inhabited. Most of the islands (about 550) are in the Andamans group, 26 of which are inhabited. The smaller Nicobars comprise some 22 main islands (12 inhabited). The Andamans and Nicobars are separated by a channel (the Ten Degree Channel) some 150 km wide.
The total area of the Andaman Islands is some 6,408 km²; that of the Nicobar Islands approximately 1,841 Sq. Km.
Flora and Fauna
Gagan Andaman & Nicobar Islands are blessed with a unique luxuriant evergreen tropical rainforest canopy, sheltering a mixed germ plasm bank, comprising of Indian, Myanmarese, Malaysian and endemic floral strain. So far, about 2200 varieties of plants have been recorded, out of which 200 are endemic and 1300 do not occur in mainland India.
The South Andaman forests have a profuse growth of epiphytic vegetation, mostly ferns and orchids. The Middle Andamans harbours mostly moist deciduous forests. North Andamans is characterised by the wet evergreen type, with plenty of woody climbers. The north Nicobar Islands (including Car Nicobar and Battimalv) are marked by the complete absence of evergreen forests, while such forests form the dominant vegetation in the central and southern islands of the Nicobar group. Grasslands occur only in the Nicobars, and while deciduous forests are common in the Andamans, they are almost absent in the Nicobars. The present forest coverage is claimed to be 86.2% of the total land area.
About 50 varieties of forest mammals are found to occur in A&N Islands, Some of them are endemic and this include the Andaman wild boar. Rodents are the largest group having 26 species followed by 14 species of bat. Among the larger mammals there are two endemic varieties of wild boar namely Sus Scrofa andamanensis from Andaman and S.S.nicobaricus from Nicobar and are protected by the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 (Sch I). The spotted deer Axis axis, Barking deer and Sambar were all introduced but the sambar couldn’t survive are found in Andaman District. This was an ill fated move as exotic introductions in island flora and fauna cause havoc around 1962 there was an attempt to introduce the Leopard which died (unsuitable habitat), the spotted deer (also protected by the WPA , 1972) Interview island (The Largest Wildlife Sanctuary of ANI) in Middle Andaman holds a fairly good stock of feral elephants. These elephants were brought in for forest work by a timber company (which left them lose after the timber company went bankrupt).
ANI has also 270 species of birds (including endemics), the Nicobar island group has a higher endemicity than Andamans and there are a total of 14 species endemic in ANI. The State Bird of Andamans is the Andaman Wood pigeon. The some of the species which are endemic to the andaman group are 1) Andaman Hawk Owl 2) Andaman Scops Owl 3) Andaman crake (a data deficient species [IUCN 2000] – full species endemic 4) Brown Coucal (formerly Andaman Coucal) – full species endemic.
With about 225 species, the A&N Islands house some of the larger and most spectacular butterflies of the world. Ten species are endemic to these Islands. Mount Harriet National Park is one of the richest areas of butterfly and moth diversity on these Islands.
Shells are perhaps the most colourful and fascinating objects known to man other than Gems since time immemorial. They served as money, ornaments, musical instruments, drinking cups, in magic and in the making of fine porcelains. They were also the symbols in rituals and religious observances, and the returning pilgrims wore them as a token of divine pardon.
A total of 48,675 hecatres of land is used for agriculture purposes. Paddy, the main food crop, is mostly cultivated in Andaman group of islands, whereas coconut and arecanut are the cash crops of Nicobar group of islands. Field crops, namely, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables are grown, followed by paddy during Rabi season. Different kinds of fruits such as mango, sapota, orange, banana, papaya, pineapple and root crops are grown on hilly land owned by farmers. Spices, viz., pepper, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon are grown under multi-tier cropping system. Rubber, red oil, palm and cashew are grown on a limited scale in these islands.
There are 1,374 registered small scale, village and handicrafts units. Two units are export oriented in the line of fish processing activity. Apart from this, there are shell and wood based handicraft units. There are also four medium sized industrial units. SSI units are engaged in the production of polythene bags, PVC conduit pipes and fittings, paints and varnished, fibre glass and mini flour mills, soft drinks and beverages, etc. Small scale and handicraft units are also engaged in shell crafts, bakery products, rice milling, furniture making , etc. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Integrated Development Corporation has spread its wings in the field of tourism, fisheries, industries and industrial financing and functions as authorised agents for Alliance Air/ Jet Airways.