Onge people

Onge people
Onge ओन्गी
Total population
95 (estimate)[1]
Regions with significant populations
western side of Little Andaman Island (India)

Onge, classified in the Ongan branch of Andamanese languages


indigenous beliefs, details unknown

Related ethnic groups

other indigenous Andamanese peoples, particularly Jarawa

Distribution of the Onge (blue)

The Onge (Hindi: ओन्गी), also Önge or Ongee, are one of the Andamanese adivasi indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal. They are sometimes classified as "Negritos". They were formerly distributed across Little Andaman Island and the nearby islets, with some territory and camps established on Rutland Island and the southern tip of South Andaman Island. This semi-nomadic tribe used to be fully dependent on hunting and gathering for food.


Population decline

Onge population numbers were substantially reduced in the aftermath of colonisation and settlement, from 672 in 1901 to barely 100.[2] The surviving members are confined to two reserve camps on Little Andaman, Dugong Creek (northeast) and South Bay. A major cause of the decline in Onge population is the changes in their food habits brought about by their contact with the outside world.[3] In 1901, there were 672; in 1911, 631; in 1921, 346; in 1931, 250; in 1941, unknown (due to World War II); in 1951 (close to Indian independence), 150.[4]


The semi-nomadic Onge have a traditional story that tells of the ground shaking and a great wall of water destroying the land. Taking heed of this story, all 96 tribesmen of the semi-nomadic Onge survived the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, by taking shelter in the highlands.[5]

Poisoning incident

In December 2008, eight male tribal members died after drinking what turned out to be a toxic liquid—identified as methanol by some sources—that they had apparently mistaken for alcohol. The toxic liquid apparently came from a container or bottle that had been washed ashore at Dugong Creek near their settlement on the island, according to reports; however, authorities in Port Blair ordered an investigation into the matter to determine whether the poison had originated somewhere else. A further 15 Onge were taken to hospital with at least one critically ill.[6]

With their population estimated at only around 100 before the incident, the deaths and illnesses represented a literal decimation of their numbers. The director of Survival International described the mass poisoning as a "calamity for the Onge", and warned that any more deaths could "put the survival of the entire tribe in serious danger." Alcohol and alcohol addiction has in recent years developed into a serious problem for Onge, adding to the threats to their continued survival posed by outside influences.[6]

Bhopinder Singh, the Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman Islands, has ordered an inquiry into the incident.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Bhaumik, Subir (2008-12-09). "Alcohol error hits Andamans tribe". BBC News. Retrieved 10 December 2008. 
  2. ^ (in Hindi) अंडमान में जनजातियों को ख़तरा (Tribes endangered in the Andamans). BBC. 2004-12-30. Retrieved 2008-11-25. "... जारवा के 100, ओन्गी के 105, ग्रेट एंडमानिस के 40-45 और सेन्टेलीज़ के क़रीब 250 लोग नेगरीटो कबीले से हैं, जो दक्षिण एशिया की प्राचीनतम जनजाति है (100 of the Jarawa, 105 of the Onge, 40-45 of the Great Andamanese and about 250 of the Sentinelese belong to the Negrito group which is South Asia's oldest tribal affiliation ... (Hindi)" 
  3. ^ Devi, L. Dilly (1987). "Sociological Aspects of Food and Nutrition among the Onges of the Little Andaman Island". Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delhi, Delhi
  4. ^ Journal of Social Research. Council of Social and Cultural Research, Ranchi University Deptartment of Anthropology, Bihar. 1976, v19. Retrieved 2008-11-25. "... However, the estimate of the Onge population given in the various census reports are as follows : Census Year Population 1901:672 1911:631 1921:346 1931:250 1941:- 1951:150 ...: 2008:95" 
  5. ^ Budjeryn, Mariana. "And Then Came the Tsunami: Disaster Brings Attention and New Challenges to Asia's Indigenous Peoples". Cultural Survival Quarterly. Retrieved 22 February 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Buncombe, Andrew (12 December 2008) (online edition). Washed-up poison bottle kills eight members of island tribe. London: Independent News & Media. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  7. ^ "Inquiry ordered into death of Onge tribesmen". The Hindu. 2008-12-11. Retrieved 13 December 2008. 

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