Since prehistoric times, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were home to Aboriginal tribes. The tribes of the Andaman group of islands are of Negrito origin and comprise the Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas, and Sentinalese, while the tribes of Nicobars who are of the Mongolid origin comprise the Nicobarese and Shompens. Radiocarbon dating studies of the Great Andamanese and Jarawas reveal that they have inhabited these islands for over 2000 years. Let us look at the ecological history of these islands.

            Claudius Ptolemy first mentioned the presence of these islands during the 2nd Century A.D. Historical studies reveal that there was no attempt to colonize these islands till the end of the  17th century. The famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo sailed through these islands during 1293 A.D.  Historical records related to these islands clearly indicate that the Cholas were aware of the presence of these islands, particularly the Nicobar group of islands. It was the great king Rajendra Chola who attacked the Nicobars and annexed it in the latter half of the 13th century A.D. However, negligible information is available on the impact of this attack by Rajendra Chola. Between 1688 and 1857, many attempts were made to colonize these islands by the French, the Danes, the Austrians, and the British.


Source: Sanctuary Asia, April 2003

Ultimately, the British successfully colonized the Andaman Islands in 1789 and later abandoned it in 1796. Having failed to colonize the Andamans, the other European countries mentioned above then tried to colonize the Nicobar Islands. However, the British second settlement in the Andaman Islands took place in 1858. After a span of nearly ten years, i.e. in 1869, they established their first settlement in the Nicobar Islands. The second settlement established in 1858 was basically a penal settlement after the first war for Independence.

            Dr. James Pattison Walker arrived at Port Blair on 10th March 1858  by the  East  India  Company’s steam frigate  “SEMIRAMIS”  with  200  mutineers and started executing the penal settlement. The island was under British occupation till 1942.  Dr.  Walker established the infamous and dreaded penal settlement with  200  convicts.  It was during this period of British occupation that  Ross  Island  (near Port Blair), was developed into a  self-equipped township with all facilities required for a  civilized colony. However, between 1942 and 1945 the islands came under the control of the Japanese. The British reoccupied the islands in 1945, with the second exodus of political prisoners, who were part of the Wahabi convicts.


During 1922, “TSS Maharaja” brought the first batch of prisoners to the islands. They were the Moplahs, who participated in the Moplah Rebellion of 1921. These prisoners undertook hunger strikes at regular intervals resulting in their repatriation to their homeland by 1938. Besides the hunger strikes, they also started rebelling against the British authority to seek permission to construct homes on the island and reunite with their families. This resulted in a favourable response from the authority leading to the first episodes of encroachments on the islands. They occupied a few hectares of land and took up agriculture as their occupation.

            To be continued . . . .

Dr. T. Sundaramoorthy

Source: Eco News, Vol.9, No.1 (April – June), 2003.

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