Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

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Culture Description

The Andamanese were the indigenous hunters and gatherers of the Andaman Islands which are located in the Bay of Bengal. There were thirteen distinct ethnic groups at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today there are four. The Andamanese live for the most part on the coast where fish is the main staple. After the December 2005 tsunami, only an estimated 500 Andamanese survived.


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Asia --South Asia



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Collection Overview

Thirteen documents, all in English, have been included in the Andamans collection. These documents fall roughly into two groups on the basis of field dates and tribes studied. The earliest group contains the two major monographs in the collection, 1: Radcliffe-Brown and 2: Man, a third monograph by (Temple) was not included in the eHRAF collection [M.M.Martin 080128]. These works focus primarily on the Andamanese tribes of Great Andaman. 2: Man is the first important study. It was written by a government official who observed the Andamanese during the period 1869-1880 when their social and cultural life was still largely intact. Man's data pertain mainly to the Aka-Bea tribe of South Andaman, with a coverage of general ethnography, physical anthropology, and language. Temple is also by a government official who was in the area at the turn of the century (1901). His data are primarily on demography and geography, but include some ethnography and linguistics, drawing heavily on Man's work for the latter. 1: Radcliffe-Brown is by a distinguished social anthropologist who presents a functional analysis of social organization, religio-magical beliefs and practices, and mythology. Unfortunately, by the time of Radcliffe-Brown's field work in 1906-1908, the Andamanese were at an advanced stage of population decline and socio-cultural disintegration, so he was unable to get a clear, detailed picture of the traditional society in operation. Also, Radcliffe-Brown studied mainly the North Andaman tribes, plus the A-Pucikwar and Akar-Bale of the southern group, so most of his data cannot be directly coordinated with that of Man.

By the time the remaining nine documents were written (#s 4-12), based on field work in the late l940s, early 1950s, and later, the Andamanese were nearly extinct, and thus much of the material in these works deal primarily with the Ongees (Onges) and Jarwas (Jarawas). These two tribes, plus the North Sentinelese, although undergoing some decline in population, have remained demographically and culturally viable, but much less is known about them than about the Andamanese. Probably the main reason for their continued viability as well as for our lack of knowledge, has been their long, implacable hostility to all outsiders. It is only in recent years that the Ongees have become friendly, thus allowing some direct field studies. The Jarwas and North Sentinelese, however, still remain hostile and are relatively unknown.

Cipriani, a social anthropologist, may have been the principal authority on the Ongees, but his posthumously published monograph, 11: Cipriani, contains little ethnographic data. It is a general book on the Andaman Islands, in which most of the primary date refers to the Ongees. 6: Cipriani covers Ongee hygienic and medical practices. Additional data on Ongee population composition and the location of settlements are provided in 7: Sarkar, while serological data on the Ongees, Jarwas, Andamanese, and Nicobarese may be found in 5: Sarkar. Although Sarkar is a physical anthropologist, he presents in 9: Sarkar a synthesis of the scant data available on the Jarwas and North Sentinelese, drawing both from the literature and his own field work. His field data, however, are based almost entirely on the observation of abandoned settlement sites and random items of material culture which he managed to retrieve, since he was never actually able to contact any of the Jarwa people.

Works concerning the islands in general include 4: Guha, an anthropological survey focusing on settlement patterns and the population composition of local groups, and 10: Sen, a survey of physical geography, incorporating a culture summary of each of the main tribal divisions, and a sketch of the culture history of the islands. 8: Heine-Geldern reviews the field work done among the Andaman Islanders, and lists the principal publications. In 1993 two additional documents were added to the Andamans collection. The first of these, 12: Mann, discusses the ethno-cultural diversity of the islands as well as their various socio-economic problems. These problems are analyzed in detail in the text and suggestions and remedies offered by the author as to ways and means of improvement. This document also provides data relevant to the ethnic composition of the islands, and brief summary chapters on certain aspects of Jarwa and Ongee ethnography. The second work added, 13: HRAF, consists in its entirety of a bibliograpy on the Andamans.

The culture summary of the Andamans was written by Vishvajit Pandya for the Encyclopedia of World Cultures. The information presented in the synopsis was prepared by John Beierle in July 1993.

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