The tribes of the Andaman Islands – the Jarawa, Great Andamanese, Onge and Sentinelese – are believed to have lived in their Indian Ocean home for up to 55,000 years. They are now vastly outnumbered by several hundred thousand Indians, who have settled on the islands in recent decades.
The Andamanese are the various indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, part of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands union territory in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal. The Andamanese peoples are among the groups considered Negritos owing to their dark skin and diminutive stature. All Andamanese traditionally lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and appear to have lived in substantial isolation for thousands of years. The Andamanese arrived at the Andaman Islands around the latest Glacial Maximum, ca. 26,000 years ago.
The Andamanese peoples included the Great Andamanese and Jarawas of the Great Andaman archipelago, the Jangil of Rutland Island, the Onge of Little Andaman, and the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island. At the end of the 18th century, when they first came into sustained contact with outsiders, there were an estimated 7,000 Andamanese. In the next century they were largely wiped out by diseases, violence, and loss of territory. Today, there remain only approximately 400–450 Andamanese, with the Jangil being extinct. Only the Jarawa and the Sentinelese maintain a steadfast independence, refusing most attempts at contact by outsiders.
The Andamanese are a designated Scheduled Tribe.
Until the late eighteenth century, the Andamanese culture, language, and genetics were preserved from outside influences by their fierce reaction to visitors, which included killing any shipwrecked foreigners, and by the remoteness of the islands. The various tribes and their mutually unintelligible languages thus are believed to have evolved on their own over millennia.
According to Chaubey and Endicott (2013), the Andaman Islands were settled less than 26,000 years ago, by people who were not direct descendants of the first migrants out of Africa. According to Wang et al. (2011),
...the Andaman archipelago was likely settled by modern humans from northeast India via the land-bridge which connected the Andaman archipelago and Myanmar around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), a scenario in well agreement with the evidence from linguistic and palaeoclimate studies.
It was previously assumed that the Andaman ancestors were part of the initial Great Coastal Migration that was the first expansion of humanity out of Africa, via the Arabian peninsula, along the coastal regions of the Indian mainland and toward Southeast Asia, Japan, and Oceania. The Andamese were considered to be a pristine example of a hypothesized Negrito population, which showed similar physical characteristics, and was supposed to have existed throughout southeast Asia. The existence of a specific Negrito-population is nowadays doubted. Their commonalities could be the result of evolutionary convergence and/or a shared history.
he Andamanese's protective isolation changed with the first British colonial presence and subsequent settlements, which proved disastrous for them. Lacking immunity against common diseases of the Eurasian mainland, the large Jarawa habitats on the southeastern regions of South Andaman Island likely were depopulated by disease within four years (1789–1793) of the initial British colonial settlement in 1789. Epidemics of pneumonia, measles and influenza spread rapidly and exacted heavy tolls, as did alcoholism. By 1875, the Andamanese were already "perilously close to extinction," yet attempts to contact, subdue and co-opt them continued unrelentingly. In 1888, the British government set in place a policy of "organized gift giving" that continued in varying forms until well into the 20th century.
There is evidence that some sections of the British Indian administration were working deliberately to annihilate the tribes. After the mid-19th century, British established penal colonies on the islands and an increasing numbers of mainland Indian and Karen settlers arrived, encroaching on former territories of the Andamanese. This accelerated the decline of the tribes.
Many Andamanese succumbed to British expeditions to avenge the killing of shipwrecked sailors. In the 1867 Andaman Islands Expedition, dozens of Onge were killed by British naval personnel following the death of shipwrecked sailors, which resulted in four Victoria Crosses for the British soldiers. In the 1940s, the Jarawa were bombed by Japanese forces for their hostility.