The Andaman and Nicobar islands have been inhabited for several thousand years, at the very least. The earliest archaeological evidence yet documented goes back some 2,200 years; however, the indications from genetic, cultural and linguistic isolation studies point to habitation going back 30,000 to 60,000 years, well into the Middle Paleolithic.
In the Andaman Islands, the various Andamanese peoples maintained their separated existence through the vast majority of this time, diversifying into distinct linguistic, cultural and territorial groups. By the 1850s when they first came into sustained contact by outside groups, the indigenous peoples of the Andamans were:
- the Great Andamanese, who collectively represented at least 10 distinct sub-groups and languages;
- the Jarawa;
- The Jangil (or Rutland Jarawa);
- the Onge; and
- the Sentinelese (most isolated of all the groups).
In total, these peoples numbered somewhere around 7,000 at the time of these first encounters. As the numbers of settlers from the mainland increased (at first mostly prisoners and involuntary indentured labourers, later purposely recruited farmers), these indigenous peoples lost territory and numbers in the face of land encroachment and the effects of various epidemic diseases. The Jangil and most of the Great Andamanese groups soon became extinct; presently there remain only approximately 400-450 indigenous Andamanese, the Jarawa and Sentinelese in particular maintaining a steadfast independence and refusing most attempts at contact.
The indigenous peoples of the Nicobars (unrelated to the Andamanese) have a similarly isolated and lengthy association with the islands. There are two main groups:
- the Nicobarese, or Nicobari, living throughout many of the islands; and
- the Shompen, restricted to the interior of Great Nicobar.
The islands provided a temporary maritime base for ships of the Marathas in the 17th century. The legendary admiral Kanhoji Angre harassed colonial shipping routes with a base in the islands.
British colonial period
After an initial attempt to set up a colony in the islands by the British was abandoned after only a few years (1789-1796), a second attempt from 1858 proved to be more permanent. The primary purpose was to set up a penal colony for dissenters and independence fighters from the Indian subcontinent.
The British used the islands as an isolated prison for members of the Indian independence movement. The mode of imprisonment was called Kalapani. The Cellular Jail in Port Blair was regarded as the "Siberia" of British India.
The islands were administered as a Chief Commissioner's Province.
The British continued their occupancy until the Japanese Invasion and Occupation of the Andaman Islands during World War II.
The islands were nominally put under the authority of the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Netaji visited the islands during the war, and renamed them as "Shaheed" (Martyr) & "Swaraj" (Self-rule). General Loganathan, of the Indian National Army was made the Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 22 February, 1944 he along with four INA officers-Major Mansoor Ali Alvi, Sub. Lt. Md. Iqbal, Lt. Suba Singh and stenographer Srinivasan arrived at Lambaline airport of Port Blair. On 21 March,1944 the Headquarters of the Civil Administration was established near the Gurudwara at Aberdeen Bazaar. On 2 October, 1944, Col. Loganathan handed over the charge to Maj. Alvi and left Port Blair, never to return. The islands were reoccupied by British and Indian troops of the 116 Indian Infantry Brigade on 7 October 1945, to whom the remaining Japanese garrison surrendered.
At the independence of both India (1947) and Burma (1948), the departing British announced their intention to resettle all Anglo-Indians and Anglo-Burmese on the islands to form their own nation, although this never materialized. It became an Indian union territory (UT) in 1950.