This archipelago of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands appears like a sentinel for the mainland of India, in the Bay of Bengal. These islands run like a narrow chain in the north-south direction extend between 6°39′ N and 13°34′ N latitudes.
The area of the island is 8249 square km. and population according to the 1991 census was 279,111 persons. The most northerly island of this archipelago is about 901 km. away from the mainland. A group of 204 small islands is called the Andamans.
Five out of them running like a chain form the main group called the Great Andamans, North Andaman, Middle Andaman, and South Andaman. Baratang and Rutland comprise the Great Andamans. They are separated from one another by very narrow straits.
To the south of the Andamans lie the Nicobar Islands. These Islands are separated from the Andamans by the Ten Degree Channel about 121 km wide. The most northerly is Car Nicobar Island. These islands are not more than 57 km. in width, the southernmost island of this group is only 146.5 km, away from Sumatra. Great Nicobar is the largest among the Nicobar Islands and it measures 344 square km.
These are the submarine tertiary fold mountain which is jutting out of the sea. This forms a link between the Arakan Yoma to the north and Sumatra to the south. The islands are hilly and there is small proportion of level land. In North Andaman there is Saddle Peak (738 metre) above sea level which is the highest Andamans.
There are a few small fresh water rivers in these islands. The streams descending the hills have cut deep valleys and have built small plains near the coast.
Tropical marine climate modified by seasonal flow of monsoon winds is found here. In the south, the annual range of temperature decreases and the amount of rainfall increases. Great Nicobar through which passes 7° N parallel of latitude has nearly marine equatorial climate.
Monsoon currents, north-east as well as south-west, bring rainfall. It is, however, during the south-west monsoon rainy season that maximum amount of rainfall is received. The hills are high enough to cause orographic rainfall.
Tropical cyclones originating from the South China Sea cross these islands during the last three months of a year. The stormy weather conditions which accompany these cyclones are very dangerous not only for ships and boats but also for man and his property.
About 87 percent of the area is covered with dense forest. Owing to high mean monthly temperature above 25°C, heavy annual rainfall (above 254 cm.) and high humidity throughout the year, tropical evergreen vegetation occurs at most of the places.
The Coast is, however, fringed with mangrove forest and low sheltered valleys are occupied with monsoon forest. Numerous creeks make it easy to penetrate into the interior of the islands and to transport logs of wood by water. Topography, soil and climate conditions are suitable for rubber plantations in the Nicobar.
Since there are no proved minerals as Such in this archipelago most of the industries are based upon forest activities. Forests are cut and are transported with the help of Elephants and running streams.
Agriculture is not important as such in this region. Only about 2 per cent of land is under cultivation. Rice is the leading crop occupying about three-fourths of the total cropped area.
It is not the staple food of the original inhabitants. Its cultivation was taken up seriously by the Indian settlers who made these islands their home after Independence.
Coconut grows abundantly in the Nicobar Islands where it is the staple food of the people. Various tropical fruits banana, papaya, lime, pine apple, fruit, etc grow. Fish can be easily caught from many sheltered bays and creeks; it forms a part of the diet of the people. Surplus coconuts are despatched to the mainland.
Aborigines of the Andaman Islands:
The aborigines of the Andaman Islands are pigmies and of black colour. They are divided into a few tribes who came over to these islands a few thousand years ago.
These tribes are Negritos and animists. Though they numbered only a few hundred these tribes put up a strong resistance to the pioneer settlers and resisted every effort of theirs for reconciliation. They live on hunting, fishing and boiled mangrove seeds.
The Andaman Indians:
These islands were a penal colony during the years 1848-1945. The criminals and some of the political prisoners from India were exiled to these islands. There were 18000 prisoners before 1945. In 1945 the penal colony was abolished and a free pardon was granted to all the convicts who were offered facilities of repatriation at Government expense.
About 4030 persons opted for repatriation. The rest numbering about 14,000 desired to make these island their homeland. These people form a sizeable portion of the population in the Andaman Islands.
The abolition of these islands as penal settlement brought in its wake the problem of shortage of labour. In order to offset the effects of the shortage of labour, about, 3,000 families have been allowed so far to settle in the islands. The families are called neo-settlers.
These peace loving people belong to a race completely different from the aborigines of the Andamans. They resemble the Mongoloid Indo-Chinese race. A few thousand of the Nicobarese are Christian converts. The rest are animists. They live on coconut, hunting and fishing. They live in bee-hive shaped huts supported by wooden stilts. Port Blair is the only important town (Capital) of Andaman Nicobar islands.