Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N)

Andaman   ‘Monkey God’

Niccolo de Conti, the early 15th century Italian merchant and explorer, sailed past the Andamans en route to Sumatra. He wrote that the name meant ‘island of gold’. Another suggestion is that it refers to Hanuman, the monkey god of the Ramayana epic, perhaps from its Malaysian form, Handuman. A handy myth says he landed here on his way to (Sri) Lanka.

Zhao Rukuo, the 12-13th century Chinese historian, described Yen-to-man (the Andaman Islands) as an island group with inhabitants “the colour of black lacquer… (who) eat men alive, so sailors dare not anchor on this coast”.

These ‘cannibals’ are the Andamanese, the aboriginal tribes of the islands: the Great Andamanese, the Jarawas, the Jangil (now extinct), the Onge and the Sentinelese. The Jarawa and the Sentinelese remain fiercely protective of their independence, refusing attempts at contact by outsiders.  Contact with the Sentinelese is prohibited by law.

Ross, Neill and Havelock islands were renamed Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island, Shahid Dweep and Swaraj Dweep respectively in 2018 to commemorate the Indian freedom-fighter who raised the Indian flag on the Islands in 1943 when the islands were under Japanese control. Some suggested that indigenous names could have been chosen.

Nicobar   ‘Naked Shore’

From Tam: நக்கம் nakkam/nakkan, ‘naked(ness)/naked man’; and Tam: வாரம் varam, ‘bank’, ‘shore’, ‘land’. The name suggests either a desolate coastline or an island peopled by naked tribes.

The Tamil Cholas used these islands as a port in the 11th century  and there are inscriptions in Thanjavur with the name Nakkavaram. Marco Polo in the 13th century refers to the islands as Necuverann, and this finally changed to Nicobar.