It's not known when the first inhabitants arrived on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands but their presence was documented in the 2nd century by Greek astronomer Ptolemy, and again in the 7th century by Chinese monk Xuan Zang during his 17-year journey through India.
Apart from brief interludes where the Cholas and Marathas used parts of the Andaman and Nicobar as a base, sporadic exploratory missions by European naval powers and fleeting references from travellers such as Marco Polo, the history of the Andaman Islands is that of the aboriginal inhabitants, some of whom still remain in varying degrees of solitude.
The more recent history of the Andamans starts with the establishment of British bases and a penal colony in the 18th century. The construction of the infamous Cellular Jail "Kalapani" or "Black Waters" (Parents often warned their truant children that they would be sent to Kalapani if they did not behave) was completed in 1908 at the cost of Rs. 500,000. Every brick used in its construction was brought in from Burma and the prisoners themselves were made the laborers.
Numerous anti-British Indians were tortured to death and executed here. During the British occupation, Islands were named after Generals who fought during the great Indian Mutiny of 1857, and till date these Islands retain those very same English names. Several Islands including Port Blair, Havelock, John Lawrence, Henry Lawrence, Duncan Island, Nicholson Island and many more can be sited as examples of this.
With the Second World War, Japanese troops occupied the islands and the local tribes initiated guerrilla activities to drive them out. Under Japanese occupation, several bunkers were built all around these Island, many of which are still standing.
The Japanese viewed local islanders as spies and many of them lost their lives as a result. Interestingly, when Netaji Subash Chandra Bose (one of the most influential leaders in the Indian independence movement) visited these Islands as an ally to the Japanese and he was made to visit Cellular Jail but was consciously prevented from visiting the section where locals were jailed on charges of spying.
On 29th December 1943, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose hoisted the flag of independent India on the island. He also established the first independent government here. Netaji renamed these islands as 'Swaraj' (Self-rule) and 'Shaheed' (Martyr). General Loganathan of the Indian National Army was appointed as the Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The headquarters of the Civil Administration was set up on 21st March, 1944 near the Gurudwara at Aberdeen Bazaar.
When India achieved independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union.
Following Independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union. Since then, massive migration from the mainland has inflated the island population from only a few thousand to more than 350, 000. During this influx, tribal land rights and environmental protection were disregarded to some extent, but now local lobby groups are becoming more vocal.
Did you Know?
- There are 94 islands that have been designated as National Parks (30 islands being turtle nesting sites) and 8 National Sea Parks in these islands.
- These islands are also the nesting grounds for the endangered Leatherback turtles and are one of the four places in the world where more than 1,000 Leatherback turtles come to nest each year. Leatherback turtles can grow up to two meters in length and one meter in breadth and weigh around 500 kilos. The leatherback turtles (Dermochelys Coriacea) are the largest of all living turtles.
- Jacques Yves Cousteau - considered the Father of Scuba diving and God of underwater filmmaking, visited these islands in 1990 and shot a 45 minute documentary called "The Invisible Islands". A number of the dive sites featured in this film are still dived today.
- It is believed that these islands are the only place where "fish die of old age" due to lack of commercial fishing.
- The Robber crab (Birgus Latro) is the largest land-living arthropod in the world. They generally live on land, but at nights climb up the coconut trees and carve a hole into the tender coconuts to eat the soft kernel. They are found on South Sentinel Island as well as on some islands in Nicobar area.
- Barren Island is the only active volcano not just in India but the whole of South Asia. It is located approx 135 kms north east of Port Blair.
- In April 2001, a team of international scientists conducted a ten day rapid survey of coral reefs in these islands. They identified 197 species of coral in 13 sites, of which 111 had not been previously recorded. The coral was unaffected by the largest climate related coral bleaching of 1998, which had destroyed 27% of the worlds reef, with El Nino and La Nina destroying 16% of worlds reef in 9 months.
- The place to get the first rays of the millennium sunrise was Katchal Island in Nicobars.
- The Nicobar group of islands is a tribal reserve and is off-limits to foreigners; even Indians need a special permit to visit these islands.
- 40% of the 244 species and sub species of plants found in the emerald isles are endemic.
- 60% of 58 species of animals found on these stunning islands are endemic.
- 50% of butterflies that live in the Andamans are endemic.
- In March 2002, 62 marine scientists met in Hanoi under UNESCO and identified the Andaman & Nicobar Islands as Bio Diversity Hotspots and potential candidates for World Heritage Sites.
- Worldwide, only five Dugongs are held in captivity. Two are the featured attraction of Toba, Mie Toba Aquarium in Japan; the third, named Gracie, is at Underwater World, Sentosa Island, Singapore; and the last two are found in Sea World on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. You may just be lucky and spot one in the wild in the Andamans!
- The only Viceroy to ever been murdered in India was in these very islands. The Viceroy, the Earl of Mayo, when on a visit to the settlement on 8 February 1872, was murdered by a Muslim convict.
- The Cellular Jail where Indian freedom fighters were imprisoned as a punishment for fighting the British rule is also located in Port Blair. This punishment was considered so harsh that these islands earned the notorious designation of being called "Kaala pani" (black water). This was the second concentration camp in the world, the first being in South Africa after the Boer war.