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Ornamentation: the tribes of the Andaman Islands – Ruth Tomlinson

Ornamentation: the tribes of the Andaman Islands

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After returning from an amazing trip to the beautiful Andaman Islands I did some research into the different tribal cultures that have inhabited the islands for tens of thousands of years. I’ve found it fascinating looking into the traditions of these isolated tribes who’ve largely shunned interactions and influences from the outside world. Such a lengthy period of isolation, almost completely lacking in external cultural influences, is equalled by few other groups in the world.

I’m particularly interested in the meaning of jewellery and ornamentation and the traditions surrounding them. The reasons the Andaman tribes make and wear ornamentation, like many ethnic communities, is either for protection or to represent love and status. They are also believed to provide medical, magical and ritualistic significance for the wearer. 

Today, the dominant tribal community that remains on the islands is the Jarawas. Their present numbers are estimated at between 250-400 individuals. Although both sexes do not wear western clothing, some decorative and practical ornaments are worn - though this is for cultural reasons and not to cover their nudity. A thick chest guard made of bark is worn by adult males for protection when they go hunting; while head bands, necklaces, armlets and waist bands are worn as ornamentation. Temporary ornaments are made form plants and collected natural ephemera from the forest and beach, while more permanent adornments are made mainly from shells, bark and red cotton threads given to the tribe by outsiders from a national administrative party.

Here are some images of the Jarawas and their ornamentation collected from Pinterest:

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