The Great Andamanese

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The Great Andamanese

Of the four tribes of the Andaman Islands, 19th century colonization proved most disastrous for the Great Andamanese people.

Boa Sr was the last member of the Bo tribe. © Alok Das

The Great Andamanese – as today they are collectively known – were originally ten distinct tribes, including the Jeru, Bea, Bo, Khora and Pucikwar. Each had its own language, and numbered between 200 and 700 people.

When the British settlers arrived in 1858, there were more than 5,000 Great Andamanese living in the islands. However, hundreds were killed in conflicts as they defended their territories from British invasion, and thousands more were wiped out in devastating epidemics of measles, influenza and syphilis, all introduced by the British.

We are in reality laying the foundation stone for civilising a people hitherto living in a perfectly barbarous state, replete with treachery, murder and every other savageness; besides which it is very desirable, even in a political point of view, keeping these people in our custody as hostages, for it undoubtedly secures the better behaviour of these inhospitable people towards our Settlement.

Tyler, British colonial official of the time

In 1970, the Indian authorities moved the remaining Great Andamanese to the tiny Strait Island, where they are now dependent on the government for food, shelter and clothing, and where alcohol abuse and tuberculosis are rife.

Today, just 53 Great Andamanese people survive.

In the 1860s, the British established an ‘Andaman Home’ where they kept captured Great Andamanese. Hundreds of the tribe died from disease and abuse in the home, and of 150 babies born there, none survived beyond the age of two.

Boa Sr. died in 2010. The Bo were the last of the ten tribes to come into contact with the British, just before the 1901 census. It took little more than a century for up to 55,000 years of human history to be wiped out.

The Jarawa are lucky as they shun contact with city dwellers. It is so nice to see they’re not dependent on outsiders for food and shelter. Our boys know nothing about hunting and cannot feed themselves.

Boa Sr, the last of the Great Andamanese Bo tribe

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