The modern period in the history of Andaman and Nicobar began only in 1789, when the British East India Company began their first penal settlement here.
Before this, no chronological history of these islands is available. But we can find some historical and mythological evidence and references upon which the pre-modern period may be formed without conjecture.
As these islands fell on the ancient trade route between Indian and South East Asia, the trading ships would certainly need to anchor near these islands for shelter during stormy weather and for replenish water.
There are so many theories about the origin of these islands and advent of man here. We get some references from Ramayana, the older epic of India Lord Rama wanted to Bridge the sea, in order to recover Sita, who have been abducted by King Ravana of Lanka. This led to the association of the islands calling the inhabitants Handuman. It is from here that the name ‘Andaman’ is derived.
According to another theory, 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 the seas, capture some of the aborigines and give them away as slaves in trade. The Malays called the area ‘the islands of Handuman’, because that is how they pronounced the name of Hanuman in the Ramayana, and the name of Handuman eventually became ‘Andaman’ whatever may have been the original name of the islands. It continued to be referred to as such with slight phonetic difference by the numerous travelers who touched the shores of these islands from second to sixteenth century. Consequently, the name used by the Malay’s struck of these Islands.
Ptolemy, who lived in Alexandria, a geographer of Roman Empire of second Century mentioned the Agmatae or Aginae as one of the islands groups in the Indian Ocean. However he describes these islands as ‘Islands of the Cannibals’ and ‘The Islands of Fortune’.
The first recorded reference to these islands is found in the monumental work ‘Badhisattavanda Kalpata’ by Kshendra, the Kashmiri poet who related how once Emperor Ashoka the Great, seated on the throne in Pataliputra in 3rd Century B.C. was approached by some Indian Merchants who complained to him of their losses and complete ruin brought out by ‘Black Savages’ when they passed through these Islands.
The next reference to these islands is found in the writing of I’Tsing, the Chinese traveler who sailing on a Persian ship, started on a voyage to India in 671 AD. He referred to these islands as ‘The islands of Cannibals’, which he called the ‘Andaban’ and, Yang- t’amang or the ‘Land of the Naked’ respectively. He gave vivid descriptions of the place. He described the transaction with the Tribals, involving the barter of Coconut for iron.
Then came two Arab travelers who also it seems, did not actually visit any of the Andaman group of Islands. Their account was translated in the 18th Century by Abbe Renaudot the French Priest. The Arabs had perhaps actually undertaken their travels some time in the 870s. Describing these islands and their people they wrote, “The people who inhabit the coast, eat human flesh, absolutely raw”. They are dark and have fuzzy hair frightful faces and eyes; enormous feet almost elbow length, and they go about ‘naked’. They have no boats and they would be eating all passers by those could get hold of.
In the history of T’ang Dynasty of China (619-916 AD) there are references of ‘Land of the Rakhsas’.
We get the authentic and detailed account of the Andamans from the writing of two Arab travelers of the ninth century A.D. namely Abu Zaid Hasan and Sulaiman. It is agreed by all that the islands called by them ‘Najabalus’ are to be identified with the Andamans. Their accounts have been translated’ as follows-
“The islands called Najabalus are with pretty well people. Both the men and the women there go naked, except that the women conceal their private parts with leaves of trees… Beyond these two islands lie the sea of Andaman. The people on the coast eat human flesh quite raw, their complexion in black, their hair frizzled, their feet are very large, and almost a cubit in length, and they quite naked… When ships have been kept back by contrary winds, they are often in these seas and obliged to drop anchor on this barbarous coast for the sake of water. When they have expended their stock, and upon these occasions they commonly lose some of their men. 
In the Tanjore inscriptions of 1050 AD these islands are called ‘Timative’ which means the islands of ‘impurity’.
In 1290 AD Marco Polo, who visited the Andamans on his way to China, refers to the Islands as Angamanian. He gives the following account: ‘Angamanian is a very large Island. The people are without a king and are idolaters and no better than wild beast. All the men of this island have head like dogs and teeth and eyes likewise. In fact in the face they are all just like big mastiff dogs… They are most cruel generations and eat everybody that they can catch if not of their own race. They live in flesh and rice and milk and have fruits different from any of ours.

Few European travelers also have left some accounts of the Andamans: In 1322 AD Friar Odoric calls the people dog faced, cannibals, also traders etc.
In 1440 AD Nicolo Conti mentions the Andaman as ‘Andamania’, which he explains as ‘Island of Gold’ as by this time it was rumoured that gold is available there. He also regarded them as cannibals. Travelers, when taken by these cannibals are torn to pieces and devoured by these cruel savages. He had followed the roads and routes of the east from Damascus to Indo-China during the year 1414-39 AD.
The myth continued till even as late as the 1625, because Master Caesar Frederike, who published his Eighteen yeer’s Indian observation in the year, that wrote-
From Necubar to Pegu is, as it were a row or chain of an infinite numbers of islands of which many are inhabited with wild people, and they call those islands the Islands of Andaman and they call their people savages or wild because they eat one another, also these islands have war with one another, and if by evil chance any ship be lost on those islands. As many have been, there’s not one man of these ships lost there that escaped uneaten or unstain. These people have not any acquaintance with any other people, neither have they trade with any but live only of such fruits as those islands yield.
Friar Odoric in the fourteen century, Nicolo Conti in the fifteenth century, Caeser Fredrick in the sixteenth and Captain Alexander Hamilton at the beginning of the eighteenth century seem similarly to have relied on imagination rather than observation in their account of these inhabitants. They were convinced that the Islands were peopled by the most savages or cannibals.

Nicobar Islands: The origin of the Nicobar appears to be some what less mysterious because throughout the historical times the Nicobar Islands have often been referred to as the ‘Land of the Naked People’ in the accounts of the voyagers. I’ Tsing describes them Lo-Jen-Kuo, which means, “Land of the Naked people”, Ptolemy was more clear about Nicobars then the Andamans. ‘Nagadipa and Barussa’ a group of five islands mentioned by him can be identified with Nicobar and Teressa group of Islands in Central Nicobar. According to him the people of these islands had tails. Perhaps the customs of wearing a strip of cloth by the Nicobarese, which hands down from the posteriors of their body led him to the above belief.
The Arab travelers while going to china came to Nicobar in 851 AD, called them ‘Lakhabalus’ or ‘Najabulus’ which was perhaps a man transcription of some from of Nicobar because it also means ‘land of the naked’. The Tanjore inscription of 1050 AD, describe the conquest of ‘Karadipa’ and ‘Nagadipa’ respectively by Rajendra II, the great Chola ruler. These names may have been used for Car Nicobar and Great Nicobar. They are mentioned as Nakkavaram, which translates as ‘Land of the Naked’.
The Tanjore inscription of 1050 AD, describe the conquest of ‘Kardipa, and Nagadipa’ respectively by Rajendra II. The Great Nicobar are mentioned as Nakkavaram, which translates as ‘Land of the Naked’.
Dr. S. Krishnaswamy Iyengar has described the century when these were conquered by Chola kings and they were known to Cholas as ‘Kardipa’ and ‘Nagadipa’ respectively.
There is also one popular saying about the nomenclature of Andaman and Nicobar was that during the Cholas occupation of these islands, the soldiers went for search of some valuable medicinal plants. Indeed on the way they found some beautiful deer’s. One among them told ‘Andhamaan Nikidipar, which it means ‘look at the deer’s standing’. This saying among Tamils gradually developed and spelled as ‘Andaman’ ‘Nicobar’.
Marco Polo’s ‘Necuveran’ (AD 1292)) Rashiduddin’s ‘Nakawaram’ (AD 1300) and Friar Odoric’s ‘Nicoveran’ (AD 1322) are obviously lineal ancestors of 15th and 16th century Portuguese ‘Nacabar’ and Nicubar and the modern day ‘Nicobar’ is derived.
The Portugese pioneers tried to spread the Christian faith, but there are few records of their activities.
In 1556, Captain Fredrick touched the shores of one of the Nicobar Islands. After him, many years later in 1601 (during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I) Sir James Lancaster, who was on his way to the spice islands in command of an east Indian company ship, paid a visit to these islands. Domenic Fernandez, a Spanish missionary, who visited the Nicobars during his voyages in 1669 repeat the same erroneous impression.
During a voyages round the world is 1688, Captain Alexander Dampier faced a mutiny of his sailors nears the shores of Nicobars. Before sailing for Sumatra in an indigenous canoe he lived with his few companions for some days at Nicobar. He was the first visitor of these islands, who correctly described the people as harmless. According to him they lived under government equal without any distinction, everyman ruling in his own house. Captain Weldom who was at Camorta told Dampier that two Jesuits were staying in that island for propagating their faith.  
Conclusion :- If we keep aside the exaggeration and unscientific conjectures of all these accounts, we can easily form a beautiful picturesque of the Land and People of the past of our Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


1. R.C Mazumder- ‘The Penal Settlement in Andaman’ (Ministry of Education and Social Welfare, Government of India New Delhi, 1975).
2. N. Iqbal Singh- ‘The Andaman Story’ (Vikash Publishing House, Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, Bombay, Knapur 1978)
3. Kiran Dhingra- ‘A Andaman and Nicobar in the 20th Century’: A Gazette, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005)
4. L.P. Mathur- ‘Kalapani’ History of Andaman Nicobar Islands with a study of India’s Freedom Struggle’ (Oriental Publication & Exporters 124 Chanderlok, Enclave, Pitampura Delhi, 110034 (India January, 1985)
5. S.N. Agarwal- ‘The Heroes of Cellular Jail’ (Publication Bureau, Punjab University, Patiala 15 Dec. 1994)
6. M.V. Portman: ‘A History of our relations with the Andamans’ (London 1899).
7. R.V.R. Murthy: ‘Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ (Development and Decentralisation) (Mittal Publications New Delhi (INDIA), 2005.
8. Selection from the Government of India, Records Vol. 77.
9. Captain Dampier: ‘A collection of Voyages round the world.
10. Sir Henry Yule, ‘The Book of Sir Marco-Polo 2 Vols, 3rd Ed. John Murray London 1903.  

- Ms. Sagarika Bairagi is a Guest Lecturer of History attached to the JNRM, Port Blair.