The people or tribes of the Andaman Islands are divided into several groups according to differences of language and culture. However, they can be classified into two main categories:
- The Great Andamanese group, including all natives of Great Andaman except the Jarawa, in the interior of South Andaman, and
- The Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese group.
Anthropologists have classified these tribes (Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese groups) of Andaman islands as Negrito people.
The Great Andamanese people are those tribal people who lived across the major islands of Andaman. Most of them are now settled at Strait island. Their numbers decreased considerable after the establishment of the Port Blair Settlement. Today, they are nearly extinct with an estimate population of around 52 inhabitants.
The Onge inhabit the island of Little Andaman, the Jarawa mainly the interior of South Andaman and the Sentinelese the North Sentinel Island. The Onge and Jarawa are believed to understand each other, whereas neither of them understands the Great Andaman tribes. They remained hostile and aloof from civilisation, still enjoys a prosperous existence.
Jarawa are those indigenous tribe of the Andaman islands who are still unaware of the outside world. They are believed to be living on the island since thousand of years. They are classified as Scheduled caste in India.
In the past few years, it has proved less risky to meet an Onge.
The Onge are of a dwarfish stature. Men measure on an average about 148 cm, women about 139 cm. There is, however, nothing abnormal about them. The body is perfectly proportioned and muscles are well-developed. The head is slightly roundish and the face mostly short and broad. The nose is flat and broad, the lips usually moderately thick, but sometimes also averted. The skin is dark. The same can be said of the hair. Remarkable, however, is its shape. The short hair of head and body is spiralled up into small cones, the skin between the cones being visible. The amount of hair on the face and body is scanty. The iris is dark brown and even the white of the eye has a brown tinge.
The Onge decorate their faces and sometimes the whole body with clay ranging in color from white to red. The clay is mixed with red ochre, water, saliva and turtle fat.
The natives of Little Andaman are divided into various local groups with clearly defined hunting grounds. Such a local groups are headed by a chief, builds in its permanent encampment a large communal hut, roughly circular in form, thatched with mats of palm leaf. In the centre of the hut is an open space for communal cooking and for dancing. Along the circumference of the hut, each family has a special portion for its personal use. A raised cane platform serves as the family bed and on the fire beside it the family meal is cooked.
The daily life of the Onge is simple. The Onge live entirely on the natural products offered by the sea and the forest.
The hunters are armed with bow and arrow. The bow is made from a straight piece of wood, planed and without any adornment. Two kinds of arrows are used. For shooting fish the arrow point consists of a sharpened iron wire, whereas pigs are killed with arrows with a lancet shaped iron-head. The metal is obtained from ships wrecked on the shore in bygone days in then filed with stone to the required shape.
In another kind of dance, the dancers hop on one foot beating with the heel of the other foot upward between the buttocks, thus producing a noise similar to a rhythmical clapping of hands.
The tribes of Andaman are considered to be the survivors of a primitive race which once occupied the whole of South Asia. Owing to their isolation in the islands and their hostility towards all strangers, they have been able to remain almost free from outside influences, whereas their relatives on the mainland, oppressed by the invading peoples, have either died out or been absorbed by them.