Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

afford protection in future to vessels visiting the islands, it was deemed advisable to establish a permanent settlement in a commanding position in Nancowry Harbour, where alone effectual surveillance could be maintained. Having first obtained the sanction of the Danish Government, which till then had been in nominal possession of the islands, the sovereignty of the group was, in April, 1869, transferred to the English Crown by the British-Indian Government, by whom the charge was affiliated to the Chief Commissionership of the Andaman Islands, and it has consequently been from thence that the infant colony1 has ever since been furnished with its entire staff as well as requirements in respect to materials and stores.

Like the Andaman Archipelago we find the Nicobar Islands peopled by coast and inland tribes, with this difference-that while the inhabitants of the former are negritos of the same and unmixed origin, those of the latter consist of two races, one of which, viz., the natives of the interior, appear as a tribe of pure descent (with certain Mongolian affinities) isolated from a remote period from contact with other people, whereas their fellow-countrymen on the coast exhibit all the characteristics of a mongrel Malay race.

For many years past a belief has been entertained by ethnologists that the inland tribe of the Nicobar Islands (known to the coast people as "Shom Pen") would be found to supply the seemingly missing and requisite link connecting the negritos of the Andaman Islands with the Semangs of the Malayan Peninsula; but this theory is proved untenable since increased facilities of intercommunication have established the fact that these jungle-dwellers are in no way allied to negritos, being fairer than the Malays and-with one exception, so far as our present observations extend-straight-haired. Moreover, the wide and frequently boisterous channel which separates the Andaman and Nicobar groups has effectually prevented intercourse between their respective inhabitants, and sufficiently accounts for the striking dissimilarities which exist, not merely in their physical characteristics and language, but even in their customs and mode of living.

3

From a rough census taken in 1883-84, it was found that the inhabitants of the Nicobar Islands number about 6,000, upwards

1 This settlement numbers between 400 and 500 souls, viz.: convicts, 275; Madras sepoys, 50; police, 27; and free residents.

2 Shom denotes "native," "countryman," "people"; and Pen the particular tribe designated. (This word Pen is pronounced as the French word pain.)

3 The only Shom Pen we have yet seen with curly hair is a man named Ko'anl, belonging to the Láfúl community; the coast people, however, assure us that his is by no means an exceptional case, and that other sections of the tribe are known to them possessing the same peculiarity.

of one-half of which are found on Car Nicobar, and 700 on the small island of Chowra; of the Shom Pen it is at present impossible to form any estimate, but judging from what we have seen of their few and scattered villages, it seems probable that they do not muster more than a few hundreds, or at the outside from 1,000 to 1,500.

The ratio of population to the area of the various islands may be said to increase from south to north, the chief cause of which may be attributed to the fact that the extent of land naturally adapted for cocoanut cultivation is comparatively limited in the southern islands, which are mountainous and contain for the most part fertile clayey soil covered with dense jungle, while the leading characteristics of the northern islands is low-lying, fertile, calcareous soil, on which alone the cocoanut flourishes most luxuriantly. The extensive plantations of cocoanut trees, especially on Car Nicobar, have attracted a considerable trade, and an average of 45 native vessels, principally from the Straits, Burmah, Ceylon, Coromandel Coast, and Kutch, annually visit these islands for cocoanuts or "kopra," the latter being prepared during the dry months by the traders entirely by means of imported labour, as no inducement could prevail on the Nicebarese to undertake the amount of sustained labour necessary for the purpose.

The coast inhabitants have already been described as of mongrel Malay stock. Traces of an admixture of Burmese and Siamese blood are not unfrequently met with: while annual visits of Burmese trading junks to these islands will account for the former, the latter may find an explanation in a fact which has of late years come under our notice, i.e., that dug-out canoes from the opposite coast of Junkseylon and the adjacent mainland have every dry season been cast ashore at the Nicobars during the prevalence of the strong easterly gales which regularly visit these islands soon after the termination of the south-west monsoon. In two recent instances (December, 1884, and January, 1885) boats of this kind' brought parties of four and seven persons respectively, who, in endeavouring to proceed along the coast of their own country, had been carried out to sea by the force of the wind which had overtaken them and, in spite of all their efforts to regain their course, driven them towards the Nicobars; both parties were fortunately provided with sufficient food for the unforeseen adventure, although the same lasted no less than three weeks. The British occupation now enables such castaways to be conveyed back to their own country, whereas in former years necessity rather than choice

1 Called by the Nicobarese "henfwat."

may have led to their establishing themselves in the land whither Fate had transported them.

Racially, as well as linguistically, the Pen tribe are distinct1 from their neighbours on the coast, and it is therefore not unreasonable to infer that in this group as elsewhere the aboriginal population have, in the course of centuries, been driven back into the mountain fastnesses by aliens more powerful than themselves, and who, having been brought to their shores by adverse winds or in the ordinary course of navigation, have taken up their abode in the islands and intermingled with such of the people as ventured to remain in their midst.

The above inference is supported by the fact that the inland tribe is confined to the one large island of the group, viz., Great Nicobar, and that most of the other islands, besides being much smaller, contain large tracts of barren grass-land which, though by contrast with the surrounding jungle contribute greatly to enhance the beauty of the country, afford no lasting refuge to those seeking safety from invaders.

We are as yet cognizant of only three Pen communities in Great Nicobar where alone this tribe, as already mentioned, exists at the present day, viz., one at Púlo Bábí on the west coast, another near Galatea Bay on the south, and a third between Láfúl3 and Ganges Harbour on the north-east; but there is good reason for supposing that near Boat Rock on the east coast, as well as further inland, other communities of this tribe will hereafter be discovered.

The, to us, best known of the above-named communities is the one near Ganges Harbour which (as will be seen from the accompanying chart) lies to the north-east of Great Nicobar. From the fact of there being two somewhat widely separated approaches to this section of the tribe it was until recently assumed that they were distinct, but it has been ascertained that although, owing to the densely wooded and mountainous character of the country, there is some difficulty of access between the temporary huts near Láfúl and those near Ganges

The late Mr. de Röepstorff more than once recorded his opinion that the Shom Pen are allied to the natives of Chowra island, but I cannot find that he ever attempted to adduce any evidence in support of his views on this subject. While a glance at the accompanying chart will indicate the prima facie improbability of such being the case, I, in common with others, have failed not only to discover any special elements of affinity between the widely separated communities in question, but also to distinguish the natives of Chowra from their neighbours in the central group, and at Car Nicobar. These remarks will, I think, be borne out by the comparison of the photographs numbered 4-8, 13, 17, 19, and 20.

Since the reading of this paper information has been obtained of two more Shom Pen communities (vide Supplement).

3 Lit.,

"East."

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »