National Geographic : 1975 Jul
talk, an Onge replied, "He was talking about the needle [injection] and cleaning the ears." Plagued with infertility and high child mor tality, the Onges are declining in numbers. Less nomadic, increasingly dependent, they apathetically see their domain dwindling in the face of accelerated settlement, leaving the survival of their culture in doubt. Sadder still is the fate of the Great An damanese, the leading tribal group in the archipelago before the establishment of the penal settlement at Port Blair. In 1859 they attacked the settlement in a desperate bid to force out the invaders. In the unequal battle of bows and arrows against rifles and cannon they were defeated. Soon zealous adminis trators set about "civilizing" the natives. The Great Andamanese left their jungle homes, adopted clothes, and ate strange foods. Clearing the forests helped spread malaria. For generations beyond count, the Great Anda manese thrived on their home islands. When the British established a penal colony at Port Blair in 1858, these Negritos totaled thousands. Contact with the newcomers brought syphilis, measles, opium addiction, alcoholism. By the 1890's the Great Andamanese had decreased to fewer than 2,000. With sad and empty eyes, they smoked the foreigners' pipes but still wore ocher body decorations (right). Today a mere 24, all of mixed blood, survive. Guided by their patriarch Loca (above), they live out the final notes in the funeral dirge of a once-proud tribe.