Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Known to Europeans since the 7th cent. AD, the Andamans, consisting of some 550 mostly small islands, were the site of a British penal colony from 1858 to 1945. Barren Island, c.50 mi (80 km) east of the central Andamans, is the territory's and India's only active volcano. The population of the Andamans is made up of indigenous Negritos (numbering less than 1,000) and largely Bengali and Tamil settlers from the Indian mainland. Settlers greatly outnumber the indigenous peoples, hundreds of which died from epidemics in the late 19th cent. Some of the Negritos live largely isolated from the settlers and have preserved a Stone Age culture; their isolation is protected by the Indian government.
The Nicobars, which comprise 22 small islands, are separated from the Andamans by a channel that is 90 mi (145 km) wide. The native population is of Mongolic stock. The Nicobars became a British possession in 1869. Japanese forces occupied both archipelagos during World War II.
Since World War II and Indian independence, some of the islands have undergone significant population growth and economic development, include Indian military bases, and regular air and ship services connect the islands with the mainland. The islands were especially hard-hit by the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami, because of their relative closeness to the epicenter (off NW Sumatra) of the earthquake that caused the waves; some 3,500 people are believed to have died.
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