4. The Andamanese
Questions of Character
by George Weber
This is how someone with an intimate knowledge of the Andamanese described their character:
The Andamanese are a very conservative race, act solely on the ideas transmitted to them from their ancestors, and will not alter them in any way.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in one of his earlier Sherlock Holmes story published 1890, called the Andamanese "fierce, morose, intractable." The aboriginal villain of the story is led by a British villain. His final moments are described as follows:
...there was a movement in the huddled bundle upon the deck. It straightened itself into a little black man - the smallest I have ever seen - with a great, misshapen head and a shock of tangled, dishevelled hair. . . this savage, distorted creature. . . that face was enough to give a man many a sleepless night. Never have I seen features so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty. His small eyes glowed and burned with a sombre light, and his thick lips were writhed back from his teeth, which grinned and chattered at us with half animal fury. . . I caught one glimpse of his venomous, menacing eyes . . .
The diabolical dwarf then tried to kill Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson with a poison dart from a small blowpipe just before he was shot down. The description reflects half-informed but fashionable Victorian opinion of the time. The creator of this fictional creature had never met a real live Andamanese aborigine, spinning his gripping yarn purely from what he had heard and read about them. Unfortunately, whatever sources Sir Arthur had consulted, they were misinformed: the real Andamanese had no blowpipe, no poison arrows, nor did they commonly have great misshapen heads. They can chatter with half animal fury, though, if really angry.
In truth, the Andamanese aborigines are not an administrator's dream people, nor were they the best thing that could have happened to a shipwrecked sailor. In all fairness and from the safety of one's armchair, it must be said that the native character, though admittedly of a decidedly darkish hue, was not quite as black as outsiders have always made it out to be. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the outside world gave the Andamanese plenty of reasons for distrust and hostility.
What the Andamanese have been as far back as we can follow them is extraordinarily primitive. Without going further into the subject, let us define a primitive society as one that fulfils all of the following four conditions: (1) it has only simple technologies, (2) is organized on a small scale, (3) is highly homogeneous (i.e. there are few if any specialist roles to be played beyond the basic male/female), and (4) lacks a written language. These points apply fully to the Andamanese and indeed to all Negrito groups.
Rather than marvel at the hostility of the Andamanese, one should give some thought to the innocent friendliness with which most primitive people first allowed outsiders onto their land and into their society. Novelty and curiosity almost always overwhelmed suspicions on early contact. Hostility was the exception rather than the rule, tending to appear only after the visitors had begun to misbehave. The best-known examples of early friendliness are provided by the South Sea islanders. In return for the welcome they had offered, they received foreign diseases, missionaries, colonial masters and a copra economy. Another example is provided by the Amerindian tribes along the coast of Brazil who were fierce warriors only towards their traditional Amerindian enemies. They welcomed the first Portuguese, French and Dutch visitors with open curiosity and the hope of using them against their enemies. In some cases the Amerindians even helped the visitors pick the right spots for their settlements and fortifications - and were then promptly enslaved to work on the sugar plantations and drawn into wars among the colonizing powers. When the tribes woke up to their situation and turned violent, it was too late. The settlers had settled. The Andamanese did not, of course, know anything of this. They merely reacted unknowingly in the one way that would ensure their continued existence. Even if their method of self-defence broke down after 1858, from the Andamanese point of view the strategy was highly successful while it lasted.
It is not fashionable today to assign generalized traits of character to entire populations. However, it must remain permissible to do so in the case of tiny, exceptional groups that are sharply differentiated from all others around them. If there are two words that characterize the Andamanese best then they are "individualistic conservatives." They showed an extreme reluctance to change their way of life coupled with a pronounced lack of respect for authority other than a very limited one sanctified by tradition. The traditional Andamanese did only what they felt like doing and what was required by tradition.
All humans of whatever degree of civilization are to some degree afraid of the dark. The Andamanese were no different. For them the night was a time of heightened danger when evil spirits roamed the jungles. The only defence against the dark was the familiar community of the local group centred on the glowing home fire. Every child who has ever been to a scout camp will have an inkling of how the Andamanese felt. It will therefore not come as a surprise to hear that they did not travel, hunt or fight at night. Even hunting bands bedding down for a short night's rest tried, whenever possible, to start a camp fire. For this purpose they always carried a vessel to keep glowing embers in readiness.
Their long-time residence in an archipelago notwithstanding, the Andamanese always remained people of the interior and of the jungle. Not even the shore-dwelling Aryoto groups developed any intimacy with the sea beyond the immediate beach area. Beachcombing and short fishing trips made with barely seaworthy and sail-less outrigger canoes within sight of land was the closest the aborigines ever got to seafaring. To drift out of sight of land was a death sentence. The Onges of Little Andaman constructed the best canoes and had the best seamanship of all Andamanese groups but even they were good only in relation to other Andamanese. When compared to that of their Nicobarese neighbours, Onge seamanship was pathetic. When compared to the world's best early navigators, the Polynesians, it was non-existent. The jungle-dwelling Eremtaga groups on Great Andaman never rose above make-shift rafts with which to cross narrow inlets.
The Onge made fishing and hunting trips as far north as Rutland island over 60 km (37 miles) of open sea. Such trips were possible only because of a number of small islands are placed conveniently like stepping stones on the way. Like all Andamanese, the Onge were terrified of drifting out of sight of land.
The extreme conservatism also affected Andamanese cuisine: surrounded by seas full of edible life, seafood contributed surprisingly little to their diet. Dugong and turtles, for example, were a favourite but rare treat. Fish was widely eaten but far less often than it might have been. The sea shells so common all around the islands were eaten only reluctantly when there was a shortage of decent food. This dislike of cockles went so far that any reference to them, in songs for example, was immediately and universally understood as a reference to shortage and famine. Decent food, as far as the Andamanese were concerned, was pork and nothing but pork. The forest-dwelling Eremtagas made hardly any use of the sea's resources besides trying somewhat half-heartedly to catch prawns and fish along their inland creeks. They were even more obsessed than the Aryoto, if that is possible, with catching pig and eating pork. For a people who are thought to have lived for thousands of years on islands surrounded by the sea, this surely is conservatism carried to absurd and self-destructive lengths.
The Onge, once more, were not quite as conservative as that. Their word for 'fish' (cioghe or coghe) also meant food. But even the Onge disliked sea shells and ate them only when there was nothing else.
Yet the Andamanese were very far from stupid or unobservant. If they wanted to, they could be very bright-eyed and flexible. The British in 1886 were amazed when a few of their Andamanese auxiliary sailors handled a new steam boat, even managing to pilot it through a difficult passage during a dark and stormy night. Within only seven years of the arrival of the British, all Great Andamanese tribes had adopted the dog and integrated it into their culture to the point of calling the period before the 1860s the "time before the dog. When the dog reached Little Andaman in 1887, the Onge did not take to the animal so quickly but it had become widely accepted and loved by the 1920s. Only the Jarawas refused to have anything to do with the dog, probably for reasons connected with their increasingly secretive way of life. The Sentinelis in their isolation were never given the opportunity to adopt dogs and they still do not have them.
Integrating the dog into traditional Andamanese society was a considerable adaptation and indicates an unexpected cultural flexibility. In 1858 Andamanese culture on Great Andaman was intact and had no tradition of keeping pets or any other sort of domestic animal. Piglets found in the jungle when their mother had been caught were occasionally kept in captivity to be fattened up for the kill but never bred. Having dogs made hunting the pig much easier. It has been estimated that the newly efficient hunting bands would have exterminated sus andamanensis and thereby destroyed their own economic basis within a few decades if the first epidemics had not reduced the number of hunters at the same time.
When asked why they did a certain thing in a certain way, the Andamanese stock answer was that their fathers had always done it this way. Sustained mental effort or lasting feelings for anyone or anything outside their immediate circle of the local group were beyond the traditional Andamanese. Capable of almost passionate love for their dogs, even to the point of the women suckling puppies at their breasts, a dead dog was nevertheless discarded unceremoniously into the jungle without a sign of regret or mourning. The bodies of strangers who died in their midst were removed in the same callous way.
Andamanese men, unlike women, were prone to blind rages, at times amounting almost to running amuck, as the following story will illustrate. In 1891 a man named Rang had taken a small basket from a woman to store his tobacco without asking her permission. The woman objected and other women of the group supported her protest. They all scolded Rang who became very angry, snatched his bow and arrows, stepped out of the hut and shot the first person to cross his way. The unfortunate victim shot in the chest was Kapo, another man. In the old days, Rang would have hidden in the jungle until the fuss had died down but in 1891 British justice was active even in the Great Andamanese jungles. Rang was arrested and sentenced to six months of rigorous imprisonment. In his blind rage his only thought was to damage something or injure somebody. Violent incidents were not unusual in traditional Andamanese society and were not signs of post-1858 cultural decay.
Men with a particularly short fuse and violent temper were called tarendsek among the northern tribes on Great Andaman. Such men (never women) were widely feared and disliked. In another of those unexplained Andamanese peculiarities, we can only note, uncomprehendingly, that the term tarendsek was also applied to the maternal uncle of the violent man.
Young Andamanese males, like most young males in most cultures, were not averse to a little scrapping. In 1884 a group of 35 Andamanese men and 2 women along with some Nicobarese was brought to Calcutta to be exhibited there in the fashion of the time. They were also shown the sights of the city so as to be duly impressed by the might of the British Empire. A visit to a jute factory left them unimpressed but they were very much interested and delighted to watch a free-for-all fight that developed in the jute factory between two Naga groups who were also shown around at the same time and who met through an administrative error. Staff at that factory must have been relieved when the various sightseeing groups finally left that day. The same group of Andamanese later had its excursions curtailed when they started to snatch the turbans off passing citizens in the bazaar.
The British, as soon as they became aware of the existence of a hostile tribe at war with their friendly Aka-Bea, spent a lot of time and effort on attempts to establish friendly relations with that tribe, the Jarawas. However, if friendship was indeed the aim, the British went about it in a decidedly odd way. During the 1880s and 1890s many expeditions composed mostly of armed Aka-Bea trackers (the Jarawas' deadly enemies), were sent into the jungle to catch a few young Jarawa men. The prisoners would then be taught English or Hindi and used as intermediaries to the tribal folk in the jungle. In July 1888 an expedition under Portman was tracking a group of Jarawas who had earlier attacked and killed an Indian convict. After a very difficult search in rain-sodden and nearly impassable jungle, the expedition captured a Jarawa male unhurt on the southernmost coast of south Great Andaman. The man, Ike, was brought to Port Blair where he behaved well, learnt a little of the Hindi language and was very friendly with other Andamanese of various tribes. In September 1887 on instructions from Portman he was set free. The high British hopes of getting the long-sought intermediary to the elusive jungle people were soon disappointed. Ike made a most friendly farewell to his Andamanese friends, took the presents given to him and vanished into the jungle, never to return. He was only seen one more time in a Jarawa war party that was involved in a fight with what the British called "our" Andamanese. During this fight Ike is reported to have made full use of his linguistic skills to abuse his enemies in Hindi.
The following descriptions of two episodes of much more recent contact with a more or less friendly Jarawa group shows that they have not lost any of their unpredictability in the intervening century. Despite all efforts, a full understanding of these people is still a long way off. In November 1974 an adolescent Jarawa girl climbed on board a small vessel lying off a beach on the east coast of middle Great Andaman. The boat carried a party of Indian government officials as well as foreign guests. They had the task of trying to re-establish contact with a particular group of Jarawas that had been contacted three times before. The girl's approach to the boat was watched by other members of her local group who quite obviously wanted to see if harm would befall her. When they saw the girl aboard and unharmed, six more Jarawas of both sexes came aboard. They made an enormous amount of noise, embraced and jumped on the crew and other outsiders aboard like people possessed. For minutes outsiders and Jarawas formed a wild confusion of arms, legs and rumps. The Jarawas then began to investigate the boat, throwing anything they did not know overboard and appropriating anything they wanted. One very young girl climbed up a mast and started to make a shrill yet melodic noise, something halfway between a song and a scream, that sounded like Gid-dig-Gid-dig-Gid-dig and sometimes, pronounced differently, like Gidigidigidigidig. Whatever else it may have meant, it was an invitation to dance a to sing and turned out to be one of the few tricks to stop the Jarawas from doing something that they should not do: whenever the outsiders imitated this sound, the whole scene changed. The Jarawas stopped whatever they were doing and started on something else. The party later moved to the beach where the outsiders soon noticed that they only kept seeing the Jarawas that had been on the boat earlier. Others were clearly holding back; also, the visitors were not shown the way to the Jarawa main camp. A certain amount of trust had been established but much distrust still lingered.
It took a fifth visit to the same Jarawa group a short time later before the outsiders saw another side of the native character:the outburst of a tarendsek. Someone had tried to photograph the inside of a hut but the reaction of the women there was such that the attempt had to be abandoned. At an earlier visit, flashlights had been used and that seemed to have frightened the Jarawas of any kind of camera. One of the women who had been so obviously against the photographing told her husband (returning from the Indian boat, laden with presents) of the incident. The furious husband screamed, roared and made threatening gestures towards the visitors. They, at first, did not know if he was genuinely angry or if he was just trying to impress his wife. It soon it became clear that he was both. The man approached the outsiders and began to search their pockets, later picking up sea shells to throw at them. When a cameraman tried to film him, he turned still more furious and tried to tear the teleobjective out of its case and then to snatch the camera itself. He was distracted when a comb was offered to him, an item that no Jarawa had yet seen. He took it but not without snatching the straw-hat from on one of the bystanders, bringing both items to his wife. She had stood quietly nearby all the time, watching the scene that her husband was so busy creating. The man then returned and repeated this several times. A policeman experienced in dealing with the Jarawas entreated all to keep calm and to give the man whatever he demanded without offering any resistance. By this time the man had worked himself up into such a state that he was frothing at the mouth and seemed to be close to running amuck. Yet he remained rational and greedy enough to continue looking for additional items to loot. When the other Jarawas who had only stood by and watched the spectacle this far saw that the man was finding more and more new items that had been hidden in the visitors' pockets, they too started to loot. Only the raging man was shouting and screaming, however, the others merely seemed to take advantage of the situation. One of the policemen present understood a little of the Jarawa language and could tell the others that the man wanted their presents but did not want to be photographed. The Jarawas love games to show off their strength and so the outsiders began to lift each other up. The tarendsek tried it too but found to his astonishment and renewed fury that he could not lift the stoutest of the outsiders. There seemed to be nothing but to go back on board with the Jarawas, including the tarendsek, following. In an attempt to divert the Jarawas, the crew took the entire party on a sightseeing trip down the coast. Unfortunately, this failed to impress. While the boat was moving, the man who had been at the center of all the trouble had quieted down and was sitting calmly on a water cask, preening himself. He was repairing the typical Jarawa piece of apparel while he was wearing it, a corset-like contraption that looks like an old-fashioned corset but is worn only by men, probably for decorative purposes. Nearby, a woman was squeezing an old wound and wiped the resulting blood and pus on what minimal clothing she wore. When she saw the revulsion at her surgical procedure on the visitors' faces, she laughed out loud and made a game of it. Another man had climbed up the mast and was singing a song that had not been heard before. Slowly, peace and quiet returned to the disturbed party. According to the police interpreter (who had trouble following the rapid-fire conversations), the Jarawas were now merely insulting their hosts by calling them playfully 'idiots,' 'long noses' or 'skin-and-bones.' When the boat returned to the home beach, the visitors finally left but not without a great deal of delay and not without each of them having been lifted up once more.
The Onge often displayed similarly mischievous, if not childish, behaviour. On one occasion in 1887 Portman had set up and adjusted a prismatic compass on a Little Andaman beach when one of the many Onge spectators came up and knocked it down. Mission accomplished, he just stood there grinning at Portmann who reacted by grinning back and hitting the man over the head with the stand of the compass. Many spectators then left in a hurry, clearly expecting trouble, but those remaining did not interfere with Portman's work. There was no further trouble.
Deception and cunning duplicity has always been the preferred weapon of the weak against the strong. When an enemy seemed too strong for outright attack, as the British were in relation to the Aka-Bea after 1858, the natives pretended friendliness while biding their time. Genuine cooperation and friendly feelings towards the intruders on the part of the Aka-Bea grew only up after three Andamanese men had been sent to Burma for two months in 1860. On their return, they told the others that the fight was hopeless. Deception remained an important weapon in the Andamanese arsenal, however, and the British were often taken aback by the lack of fair play in the jungle. On the other hand, the Andamanese were outraged by the clearing of their jungles, by violent parties of escaped convicts passing through their hunting grounds, followed by pursing parties of prison guards, both groups pilfering the aboriginal huts as they went.
The Andamanese were often accused of laziness. The charge can be true only from the point of view of societies whose members regard the daily drudgery in fields, factories and offices as the height of civilization. A hunting-gathering society in a bountiful tropical jungle had no use for and no concept of hard work. Hunting was not "work," it provided not only meat but much entertainment and excitement. Many well-meaning outsiders tried to introduce the joys of agriculture to the Andamanese, to the point where the idea was called the igniis fatuus of many British officers. Again and again it was found, after spending much effort, labour and money, that the Andamanese would rather do without the new luxuries if the only way to get them was to work. Fishing lines (left out overnight and then pulled in heavy with fish the following morning) were demonstrated to the Onge who showed polite interest but who did not take up the idea. Nets were what their fathers had used and nets were what they continued to use. The attempt to make the Andamanese breed their favourite food, pigs, also failed. Breeding your food was less fun than hunting it. In an another chapter we have already mentioned the fate of the coconut palm and how it was practically extinguished in the islands because all nuts were immediately eaten with none left to germinate. Many other plants, occurring naturally or deliberately introduced, suffered a similar fate. The natives used what they needed down to the last seed, leave, root or stem, never giving a thought to leaving a few seeds or whole plants to regenerate the supply.
For some reason, the Onge treated yam differently: they applied a form of "unconscious agriculture" to it. The Onge believed that wild yam belonged to the spirits of the forest who would take most unkindly to the looting of their property. The women elegantly got around the problem by digging up the plant, cutting off the useable parts and then sticking the remnant back into the earth. The spirits never noticed the theft and the plant had a chance to regenerate and provide future nourishment.
With no hard labour to take up their time, much time and effort was expended on personal appearance. Vanity was a widespread Andamanese weakness. To the last man and woman, they were all convinced of and fascinated by their own good looks. A lot of time was spent on beauty care, on shaving and on painting their gorgeous bodies. Given this preoccupation, it is not surprising to find that to criticize another person's looks or decorations was a serious matter. Among the worst terms of abuse were "your nose is ugly" or "your mouth is deformed." The Jarawa bad-mouthing of their hosts mentioned above was strong language by Andamanese standards.
The following grab-bag of generalizations was compiled by government officials who were closely and personally acquainted with Andamanese living not more than three generations after the watershed of 1858. Some formulations may grate on late 20th century susceptibilities while others reflect the Victorian prejudices of the authors. The list is worth quoting all the same:
Throughout life [the Andamanese] retains the main characteristics of the child: very short but strong memory; suspicious of, but hospitable to, strangers; ungrateful; imitative and watchful of his companions and neighbours; vain, and under the spur of vanity industrious and persevering; teachable up to a quickly reached limit; fond of undefined games and practical jokes; too happy and careless to be affected in temperament by his superstitions; too careless, indeed, to store water even for a voyage; plucky but not courageous; reckless only from ignorance or in appreciation of danger; selfish but not without generosity, chivalry, and a sense of honour; petulant; hasty of temper; entirely irresponsible and childish in action in his wrath, and equally quickly to forget; affectionate; lively in his movements, and exceedingly taking in his moments of good temper. As a rule, the Andamanese are gentle and pleasant to each other; considerate to the aged, the weakly and the helpless, and to captives; kind to their wives, and proud of their children, whom they often over-pet; but when angered, cruel and jealous, treacherous and vindictive, and always unstable. They are bright, merry companions; talkative, inquisitive, and restless; busy in their own pursuits; keen sportsmen and naturally independent, absorbed in the chase from sheer love of it and other physical occupations; and not lustful, indecent, and indecently abusive. As the years advance they are apt to become intractable, masterful, and quarrelsome; a people to like but not to trust. Exceedingly conservative and bound up in ancestral custom, not amenable to civilization; all the teaching of years bestowed on some of them has introduced no abstract ideas among the tribesmen, and changed no habit in practical matters affecting comfort, health, and mode of life. Irresponsibility is a characteristic, though instances of a keen sense of responsibility are not wanting. The intelligence of the women is good, though not as a rule equal to that of the men. In old age, however, they frequently exhibit a considerable mental capacity which is respected. Several women trained in a former local mission orphanage from early childhood have shown much mental aptitude and capacity, the savagery in them, however, only dying down as they grow old. They can read and write well, understand and speak English correctly, have acquired European habits completely, and possess much shrewdness and common sense. The highest general type of intelligence yet noticed is in the Jarawa tribe.
What is not mentioned here is an Andamanese characteristic that many researchers must have suspected but may have been too bashful or embarrassed to mention. The Andamanese were what we today would call very private persons. They did not like to be interviewed and there is no question that they, deliberately and with malicious aforethought, told barefaced lies. Even when telling what they saw as the truth, the cultural chasm between interviewer and interviewee was often too deep to be bridged. And then there was the language problem: the language barrier is rarely mentioned in reports but it remains a fact that very few researchers were adequate in one or more of the Andamanese languages. Investigators were, and some still are, remarkably coy about their own linguistic skills or lack thereof.) Handicapped by inadequate linguistic skills, investigators either tried to muddle through interviews using sign language or worked with translators of questionable competence and integrity. Too often, the mischievous natives had their sport with the earnest seekers after truth. Many items published, especially on religious beliefs, are reported by only one author and the resulting shapeless mass of confused, contradictory and uncorroborated detail available might well be due to the unwillingness of the Andamanese to explain themselves and to the inability of the two sides to understand each other. There may be yet another source of confusion: in everyday life, the Andamanese were capable of logical and consistent thinking, were shrewd observers of natural forces as well as of human character. In their myths, legends and stories, however, they could cheerfully hold many contradictory beliefs simultaneously without being disturbed in the slightest when the inconsistencies were pointed out to them. They do not seem to have had a concept of "reality." Whatever someone did or thought or believed at any moment was reality and was true even if it could change at a moment's notice. Consistency was not an Andamanese obsession.
In the list of characteristics quoted above, the discrepancy between the natives' hospitality and their well-documented hostility to outsiders is especially striking. The Andamanese could indeed be the most charming and generous hosts but only if they recognized and accepted the visitor as a friend. It was extremely difficult for an outsider to be so accepted. Shipwrecked survivors with lootable belongings or escaped convicts did not stand a chance. It took many years of patient application of the carrot and the stick to encourage the Great Andamanese not to kill but to help shipwrecked people and to notify the authorities. In return, they were then unofficially allowed to loot the wrecks for iron, leaving all parties more or less satisfied. Less happy were escaped convicts caught by the Andamanese. Encouraged by the British, the Great Andamanese had stopped killing escapees outright but instead began to make a cottage industry out of catching and turning over escaped convicts for reward. Escapees were terrified of the little black hunters and both sides often murdered before they could be murdered. Although friendly relations between convicts and Andamanese are known to have existed, for escapees in the jungle the law of the jungle prevailed in a most literal sense. When the Andamanese had apprehended an escapee and been kind enough not to have killed him, the prisoner did not have an easy time of it. Before turning him in, the natives would humiliate their prisoner, make him beg for his life and make him work for his food. It may not have been an agreeable experience but it was still better than being dispatched in the traditional way.
There is one well-documented case of an outsider being accepted or at least tolerated by the natives: that of the escaped Indian convict Dudhnath Tewari. In April 1858 he had run off with 90 others into the jungle around Port Blair. The group wandered aimlessly, suffering from lack of food and water. After thirteen days of this, they suddenly found themselves encircled by a war party of about 100 native men who immediately set about massacring the defenceless crowd. Dudhnath had been seriously wounded by three arrows when he managed to escape and hide. Two others had also done likewise. The next morning the three survivors tried to resume their wanderings but were spotted by a new group of 60 natives including women and children. They, too, attacked at once and again Dudhnath survived, by feigning death. The natives pulled him out of his hiding place and despite piteous pleading shot more arrows at him from a short distance. Again he survived. After playing dead yet again and then by pleading for mercy when the natives came up to him to pull their arrows out of his body, his assailants finally relented. They looked after his wounds and took him to their camp. The incident is extreme but seems characteristic of the unpredictable Andamanese behaviour. Dudhnath stayed with his group and moved all over southern Great Andaman and the Labyrinth islands with them, never staying long in one place. He adapted to his new circumstances, learnt the language, wore no clothes, shaved his head and apart from his slowly-healing wounds enjoyed the best of health despite the unhygienic conditions of traditional Andamanese life. We can only marvel at such resilience. The natives remained suspicious of Dudhnath, however, and never allowed him near a weapon. After about four months of this, the chief of the group suddenly and without discussion made over his daughter aged 20 as wife along with a much younger girl which Dudhnath mistakenly thought of as a second wife. The bridegroom later complained movingly about the lack of fuss surrounding his marriage.
During the following months of wandering, Dudhnath found out about a native plan to attack and loot Port Blair. He travelled with his group towards Port Blair until he could break away and warn the British. This he managed to do at the last possible moment. The attack took place in late Spring 1859 and is known rather melodramatically as the "Battle of Aberdeen." No one had thought the natives capable of organizing an attack on such a scale. Just as surprising to the British was the fact that the Andamanese could distinguish not only between convicts and jailers but also between the different ranks of convicts. Unless actively opposed, they left the ordinary convicts alone and concentrated their attacks on supervising convicts and British officers. It was to be the only such large-scale attack. Dudhnath received an unconditional pardon from the British for his part in the battle and spent the rest of his life telling tall stories about his adventures among the savages.
Another case also illustrates that at least some Andamanese did not lack an ability to learn. An 8 year old Andamanese orphan boy named Joseph was adopted during the 1870s by a British army doctor, Dr. Joseph, on the overwhelming grounds that they shared the same name. The boy was placed in a good school first in Rangoon and then in Bangalore where he acquired a knowledge of Hindi and English. After the death of his foster-father, who had neglected to make any provision for him, Joseph struck out on his own and was reported wandering all over India, learning Tamil and Telugu on the way. Joseph's unusual appearance as Negrito at one stage brought him the offer of a position in the brass band of the Raja of Vishakhapatnam (Vizianagram). It also made it easy for the British authorities to track the boy's progress through India. We meet Joseph later as cabin servant on board a passenger liner, as an employee of a Rangoon hospital, in service on board a British gunboat and finally for some unspecified offence, probably drink, serving a short sentence in jail. He was picked up in the streets of Rangoon, by this time aged around 20, and sent back to the Andamans where he attracted unfavourable attention by forging signatures to get at alcoholic drinks. His behaviour became so unruly that he was sent back into the Andamanese jungle. Next we hear of him when he received a Jarawa arrow in the leg but the circumstances of this adventure are not reported. Some years later he finally and no doubt to the relief of the authorities married and settled down on Middle Andaman, finding responsible work as supervisor of the local trepang fisheries. A little later he came as close to the pinnacle of local high-society as any Andamanese ever did when in the early 1890s he was attached as an orderly to the French anthropologist Lapique who visited Port Blair on his yacht and who wanted to see a vrais sauvage. Joseph was a lot more than a "true savage" even though the Victorian worthies whose reports are all that is left of his life called him a scoundrel and blackguard. With the advantage of distance in time, we can see an Andamanese orphan whose considerable talents were not (and given his environment, time and circumstances could not have been) appreciated by his contemporaries.
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