The Onge community once occupied the entire Little Andaman but they are now settled in two settlement areas or camps: Dugong Creek and South Bay. Recently there has been another shift as the GOI is busy encroaching Onge land to build tourist resorts. Initially, they came into contact with the British who befriended them only to have control over the island. Later, after 1950, the non-Onge population started settling in once the Indian government decided to move refugees to the Andaman Islands. These non-Onge populations brought diseases and disturbed the ecological
balance of the islands; consequently, the Onge population started declining. At present their population is around 104. Their language appears to be similar to Jarawa
The Onge, also called [ö:ng] ‘we people’ by themselves, settled on the island called the Little Andaman south of the Great Andaman. See the map of There are two settlements of Onge on the island since 1976. One is known as the Dugong Creek settlement and the other is known as the South Bay settlement. A majority of them live in the forest reserve area of Dugong Creek. It is in the jungles of Dugong Creek that we got an opportunity to stay with the Onges in 2002.
At the time of our visit out of the 96 tribes, only 5 families comprising 15 members lived in South Bay. These families maintained communication with those living in the Dugong Creek reserve. The government provided each family [family is defined as ‘parents and non-married children’] with huts erected on stilts. In addition, each family was provided with a monthly ration of daal (pulses), oil, salt, biscuits, matchboxes and clothes to wear. Interestingly, each family was also provided with a portable transistor radio. It was very amusing to see an Onge walking in the jungle with the transistor blaring Hindi film music. Young Onge boys were seen to hum lines from Hindi songs without understanding a word of them.
At present, they have moved from the Dugong Creek reserve further into the Tandalu forest (Pandya 2005). Not only this, they have resumed their daily chores such as hunting, fishing and gathering from different parts of the forest. According to Pandya who visited Tandalu, Onges seemed happier than before the tsunami (giyangejebey 'land became water' in their language) havoc, as they were no longer living in the government-built prefabricated huts that were totally devastated by the tsunami aftereffects. Onges seemed contended, as now they were living in huts, entirely made by them, and which were similar to the traditional old huts they once lived in.
On the day tsunami approached the tribes ran deep into the forest and saved themselves. They are used to witnessing the various moods of nature and consider every phase as part of their life.
Living with the Onge taught me the interconnectivity of the environment and the survival of humans and non-humans. Their method of honey collection is exemplary for any environmental science graduate. Unlike the general practice of burning the honeycomb and in the process burning many bees to draw honey out, Onge smother their body with a kind of clay before climbing the tree carrying the honeycomb. Closer to their reach they spit out a large amount of a special leaf juice on the hive. The juice attack forces bees to fly away and facilitates the Onge to get to the comb without being bitten by the bees. When I asked them "how come flying bees don’t attack you?" Prompt came the reply, “Have you ever seen bees biting the earth? In that clay-laden body, we look and smell like a piece of earth”. He further elaborated “this way bees are not hurt. They come back and make another hive”.