ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS
ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS
Andaman and Nicobar Islands, union territory, India, consisting of two groups of islands at the southeastern edge of the Bay of Bengal. The peaks of a submerged mountain range, the Andaman Islands and their neighbours to the south, the Nicobar Islands, form an arc stretching southward for some 620 miles (1,000 km) between Myanmar (Burma) and the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. The arc constitutes the boundary between the Bay of Bengal to the west and the Andaman Sea to the east. Port Blair (on South Andaman Island) is the territorial capital. Situated on the ancient trade route between India and Myanmar, the Andamans were visited by the navy of the English East India Company in 1789, and in 1872 they were linked administratively by the British to the Nicobar Islands. The two sets of islands became a union territory of the Republic of India in 1956. The territory has for more than a century been recognized for its indigenous communities, which have ardently avoided extensive interaction with ethnic outsiders.
The Andamans comprise more than 300 islands. North, Middle, and South Andaman, known collectively as Great Andaman, are the main islands; others include Landfall Island, Interview Island, the Sentinel Islands, Ritchie’s Archipelago, and Rutland Island. Little Andaman in the south is separated from the Nicobar Islands by the Ten Degree Channel, which is about 90 miles (145 km) wide. The Nicobars consist of 19 islands. Among the most prominent are Car Nicobar in the north; Camorta, Katchall, and Nancowry in the centre of the chain; and Great Nicobar in the south. About 90 miles to the southwest of Great Nicobar lies the northwestern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia.
Relief and drainage
Both the Andaman and Nicobar groups are part of a great island arc, formed by the above-sea extensions of submarine ridges of the Rakhine Mountains and the Patkai Range to the north and the Mentawai Ridge (the peaks of which form the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia) to the south. The highest elevation is 2,418 feet (737 metres) at Saddle Peak on North Andaman, followed by Mount Thullier at 2,106 feet (642 metres) on Great Nicobar and Mount Harriet at 1,197 feet (365 metres) on South Andaman. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there were volcanic eruptions on Barren Island in the northern Andamans.
Formed of sandstone, limestone, and shale of Cenozoic age (i.e., formed during the past 65 million years), the terrain of the Andamans is rough, with hills enclosing narrow longitudinal valleys. Flat land is scarce and is confined to a few valleys, such as the Betapur on Middle Andaman and Diglipur on North Andaman. Perennial rivers are few. The coral-fringed coasts of the islands are deeply indented, forming safe harbours and tidal creeks.
The terrain of the Nicobars is more diverse than that of the Andamans. Some of the Nicobar Islands, such as Car Nicobar, have flat coral-covered surfaces with offshore coral formations that prevent most ships from anchoring. Other islands, such as Great Nicobar, are hilly and contain numerous fast-flowing streams. Great Nicobar is the only island in the territory with a significant amount of fresh surface water.
The climate of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is tropical but is moderated by sea breezes. Temperatures typically rise from the low 70s F (about 23 °C) into the mid-80s F (about 30 °C) daily throughout the year. The territory receives roughly 120 inches (3,000 mm) of rain annually, brought mainly by the southwest monsoon, which blows from May through September, and by the tropical cyclones that follow in October and November. In the Nicobars, Great Nicobar receives considerably more rain than the other islands. The Andamans have long provided meteorological data for shipping in the Bay of Bengal; a reporting station was in operation at Port Blair as early as 1868.
Although the Andaman and Nicobar Islands territory consists of hundreds of islands, very few of them are inhabited. Roughly two dozen of the Andaman Islands support human settlements, while only 12 of the Nicobar Islands are populated. The vast majority of the population of the Andamans consists of immigrants from South Asia and their descendants. Most speak Hindi or Bengali, but Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam also are common. The indigenous inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, the Andamanese, historically comprised small isolated groups—all speaking dialects of the Andamanese language. They used the bow and the dog (introduced to the Andamans c. 1857) for hunting but knew no method of making fire. Turtles, dugongs, and fish were caught with nets or harpooned from single outrigger canoes. The remoteness of the Andamanese and their general hostility toward foreigners prevented major cultural change until the mid-20th century. Few indigenous Andamanese survive today, most groups having been decimated by disease following their encounter with Europeans, Indians, and other outsiders. In the early 21st century the only Andamanese groups that remained intact and continued to practice the ways of their ancestors included a small group of Great Andamanese on Strait Island, the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island, the Jarawa of the interior areas of Middle and South Andaman, and the Onge of Little Andaman.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture is the occupation of most of the residents of the Andaman Islands. Principal crops include rice, coconuts, betel (areca nuts), fruits, and spices (such as turmeric). Rubber, oil palms, and cashews also are important. In addition to farming there is a small forestry sector on the islands, which focuses on production of sawn wood for domestic use; surpluses are exported to the Indian mainland. Similarly, the products of the islands’ fisheries are intended primarily for domestic consumption.
Tourism is a growing industry in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, with dozens of hotels scattered throughout the territory. Most tourists are from the Indian mainland. Popular historical attractions include remnants of the British colonial administration, such as the Andaman Cellular Jail (completed in 1906), in Port Blair, where the Indian revolutionary Vinayak Damodar (Vir) Savarkar was detained in the first half of the 20th century. The natural environment of the territory, with its many parks, gardens, and sanctuaries, is attractive to ecotourists and trekkers.
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