“I Came, I saw & I was Enchanted!”
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Thanks to the requests of a good number of my esteemed readers here over the past one year, I’ve been tempted to publish the rich, chequered, extraordinarily spine-tingling but very momentous history of these exemplary group of serene islands of Andaman & Nicobar, in a summarizing fashion, for the benefit of students, anthropologists, scientists, archeologists, sociologists, linguists, environmentalists, tourists and other general readers alike.
So, dive in and treat yourself with a unique and enchanting saga of human settlement that rekindles the reaction of Daniel Defoe’s legendary Robinson Crusoe, who said, “I came, I saw and I was enchanted!” J
Floating in splendid isolation, south-east of the Indian mainland is the archipelago of 572 emerald islands, islets and rocks known as Andaman & Nicobar Islands. This Union Territory is stretched over an area of more than 700 Km. from north to south with 36 inhabited islands and is divided into three districts – North & Middle Andaman and South Andaman to the North and Nicobar to the South. The North and the South districts are separated by about 90 nautical miles of sea – The Ten degrees Channel. These islands are the continuation of the ‘Arakan Yoma’ mountain range which extends from Myanmar up to ‘Achin Head’ of Indonesia.
These undulating islands are covered with dense forests and endless variety of exotic flowers and birds. The topography of the islands is hilly and abounds in evergreen forests. The sandy beaches on the edge of the meandering coastline are fringed with coconut-palms that sway to the rhythm of the sea. The sea around the islands offers excellent scope for water sports.
The rare flora and fauna, underwater marine life and corals, with crystal clear water and mangrove-lined creeks, offer a dream-view of the rare gifts of nature. The clean and wide roads, free of filth as well as unpolluted fresh air attract any nature-lover, who seeks absolute peace and tranquility in the lap of nature. Adventure tourism like trekking, island camping, snorkeling, scuba diving etc. are the real attractions. A visit to these islands is, undeniably, a memorable lifetime experience.
Mythologically, the name ‘Andaman’ was presumed to be derived from ‘Hanuman’, who was known to the Malays as ‘Handuman’. The name ‘Nicobar’ seems to be a corruption of the South Indian term ‘Nakkavaram’ (Land of the Naked) as indicated in the great Tanjore inscription of AD 1050.
Since prehistoric times, these islands have been the home of aboriginal tribes. The tribes of the Andaman group of islands are the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, and the Sentinatese, all of Negrito origin, while the tribes of Nicobars are the Nicobarese and Shompens, both of the Mongoloid stock.
The first settlement by the British took place in 1789, which was later abandoned in 1796. The second settlement was basically a penal settlement, taken up in 1858, after the First War of Indian Independence, followed by the settlement of convicts, ‘Moplas’, some criminal tribes from the then Central and United Provinces, refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar) and Sri Lanka as well as ex-servicemen.
The Social Make Up
In these exemplary islands, people of all faiths - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc., and of all languages like Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Nicobarese etc., live together in complete peace and harmony. Inter-religious and inter-regional marriages are common. This amazing racial and cultural mix is correctly described as ‘Mini India’.
An old picture of a street in Port Blair, the present-day capital.
Forests are the green extension over gold of the islands. The reserved and protected forests extend over 86% area of the territory and the forest cover is more than 92%. About 50% of the forests have been set aside as Tribal Reserves, National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries, which are inviolate.
Luxuriant Mangroves, perhaps the richest in the world, occupy nearly 11.5% of the territory. More than 150 plant and animals species are endemic in nature. Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park is rich in corals, varieties of colored fishes, sea turtles etc., besides other marine life. It is a bird’s paradise - more than 271 varieties of birds inhabit the idyllic landscape, out of which 39 are endemic. Megapode, Swiftlet, Hornbill and Nicobar Pigeon are some of the specialties of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman and Nicobar archipelago comprising of 572 Islands, islets and rocks, float in the clear blue waters of the Bay of Bengal, 700 nautical miles off the South Eastern coast of India. Andamans are the Weather Windows to the Indian Peninsula as majority of the systems which affect the Mainland have their origin in the Andaman Sea. The Isles experience a tropical monsoon climate. Temperature is moderate and relative humidity is high. With both North-East & South-West monsoons being received, it rains for about eight months a year. December to March is the season of relatively fair weather with winds, generally East/North-Easterly, accompanied by occasional showers.