History of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a great historical background. Legendary saying goes that the name Andaman owes its origin to the Malays, who have known the islands from time immemorial, since the islands provided them with slaves. They used to sail across these as, capture some of the aborigines and give them away as slaves in trade. The Malays called them the islands of Handuman because that is how they pronounced the name of Hanuman in Ramayana, one great classic, and Handuman eventually become Andaman.
The Chinese knew of the Andaman &Nicobar Islands over a 1000 years ago and called it the ‘Yeng-t-omag’. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands also find a place in the first map of the world drawn by Ptolemy, the Roman geographer during the 2nd Century. He called it ‘Angdaman islands (Islands of good fortune). During the 6th Century I’T Sing, a Buddhistmonk, named it ‘Lo-jen – kuo’ (Land of the Naked). Two Arab travelers during the 8th Century referred to these islands as ‘Lakhabalus or Najabulus ‘(Land of the Naked). The great traveller Marco Polo called it’ Angamanian’. The Andaman & Nicobar Islands remained the abode of the Negritos and the Mongoloids, for centuries.
The history of these islands could be divided into 4 broad periods:
• The period of seclusion
• the British regime
• the Japanese regime
• And the Post-Independence period.
The modern history of Andaman & Nicobar Islands can be traced back to 1789 when the Governor General of British India commissioned a survey of these Islands by Lt Archibald Blair, who conducted the first topo-cum-hydrographical survey and reported suitability for human settlement. Immediately thereafter, in 1790 the first settlement was established at Port Blair (then Port Cornwallis) in the present day Chatham Island by bringing Criminals from undivided India. However, high mortality due to malaria and frequent attacks by aborigines forced the settlement to be shifted to a new port in North Andaman during 1792. However, due to natural calamities, the British left the Andman & Nicobar Islands by 1796.
Though little is known about Portuguese activities in these islands, it is evident that the Portuguese missionaries started preaching Christianity among the islanders. The Nicobarese language also reflects a few Portuguese words. The missionaries entered the Nicobar group of Islands in 17th century.
In 1756, the Dutch colonized Nancowry group of Islands and stayed there up to 1787. After several unsuccessful attempts to build up a colony in Nan cowry, the Dutch Government ultimately handed over Nicobar group of Islands to the British, who took possession in 1869.
It was in 1857, after India’s First War of Independence, that a penal colony was attempted at Port Blair with an initial lot of 200 freedom fighter who, for the first time, attempted to over throw British rule in India. The Britishers established their colony in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the second time in 1858.During this colonization the British Officials and soldiers settled in large groups.
The Britishers sent the convicts from India and Burma to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. They separated the Indians who fought for the country’s independence and were sent to these islands by ships. They were chained and were sent into the dense forests to fell the trees and clear the lands. They were allotted stipulated time and were ordered to complete the works within the stipulated time. The prisoners who protested were hanged to death.
The number of freedom fighters increased to 773 within 3 months. The famous “Battle of Aberdeen” between civilized men and Stone Age aborigines of Andamans was fought on 14th May 1859 at Aberdeen Bazaar. During 1869 – 70 many Wahabi Movement activists who rose against the British rule were deported from the Central and United Provinces of undivided India to Andaman. One amongst them was Mohd. Sher Ali Khan (a Pathan), who assassinated Lord Mayo, the Viceroy and Governor General of India on 08 February 1872 at Hope Town Jetty. Later, in the same year, Sher Ali Khan was executed in Viper Island by the British.
The first Prison and Hangman’s Noose were built at a small island named Viper. There were no sufficient cells to prison the convicts at Viper Island. Therefore, on 13 September 1893, the British Government of India, ordered the construction of Cellular jail to accommodate 600 prisoners. Prior to construction of the Cellular Jail, male convicts were held on Viper Island and women convicts at South Point.
Then occurred the great uprising of moplahs, the Moplah Rebellion during 1921. About 1400 Moplahsmosly from Muslim dominated districts of Ernad, Walluvanad and Calicut of Kerala were sent to Andamans with their families for rebelling against the British rule.
During World War 2, the British abandoned these Islands in a haste due to advancing Japanese Forces, allowing Japanese occupation of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Japanese brutally ruled the territory for 4 years from 1942 to 1945. During this period, Japanese built heavy Military infrastructure in these Islands.
Port Blair harbour was used as a forward surveillance base for Sea planes of the Japanese forces. A few months after the Japanese occupation, allied forces succeeded in blocking Sea lanes threatening the Island population to the brink of starvation. Japanese successfully averted the disaster through enforced intensive community of farming of tubers like tapioca and sweet potato. Extensive road network expansion was also undertaken at that time for connecting Port Blair outlying villages and cultivate land.
On 7th October 1945, the Armada carrying 116 Indian infantry brigade of South East Asian allied Land force under the command of Brigadier A.J. Solomon surrounded Port Blair, compelling about 20,000 Japanese soldiers to surrender on 9th October1945. With the advent of Indian Independence on 15th August 1947, these islands were merged with the Indian main stream.