ARTS & CRAFTS OF ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR

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Region: Andaman and Nicobar




The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, often described as green islands in the marigold sun, lie as a long and narrow broken chain in the southeastern Bay of Bengal . This two-district Union Territory is composed of 572 islands of various sizes of which only 37 are inhabited, and it is the most isolated part of the Indian union. One-fifth population of this remote part is tribals or aboriginals.

According to the available statistics about 73% percent of the land area of 6,591-sq-kms. In the Andaman group, and 1,645-sq-kms. The Nicobar group is covered with forest right up from the water's edge to the hilltops. This figure is interesting when compared to the national forest percentage (24%). However, though the islands' quantity of usable timber is not as high as one would expect, wood and other forest products available in the territory are varied and many. The main varieties of useful timber found are Padauk, Gurjan, Badam, etc.

Bamboo is available in abundance. Cane, too, is present in large quantities but not always easily accessible. Pandumas or Mellery, locally known as "Kevadi" grows to a big size and has long leaves. The islands also have a large number of coconut trees.

The other natural resource is the sea wealth of the islands, which includes shells, coral, sea weeds and driftwood. The main types of shells available are Turbos, Trancs, and Tortoise.

Wood Work Carpentry and woodwork are native to the Andamans, and the Administration also provides training in this line. Several units are engaged in making furniture and other articles out of ornamental woods such as Paduak, marble wood, Chui, etc. Tabletops made of Paduak burr are a novel item produced.

A production centre under the industries department and a workshop of the Government saw mill at Chatham are the two large units responsible for the bulk of the produce. There is enormous scope for improvement in the furniture industry of the Andamans, especially with regards to construction, design and finish. Use of seasoned wood must also be encouraged for items to be exported out of the islands.

Driftwood, shaped by the flow and currents of the sea, is freely available in the Andamans, and imaginatively converted into objects d'art.

CANE AND BAMBOO
Cane and Bamboo Work is carried on by settlers from Kerala and Andhra Pradesh . They are capable of making various items according to designs provided. Left to themselves, they generally copy designs from old catalogues.

Beautiful hole cane baskets made out of thin cane twigs that are not split, are used by women for carrying market produce and for storage. A cheaper type is used by labourers engaged in construction work. Mention may also be made of the cane work done in the cellular jail. This is mostly furniture made to order. The total number of artisans engaged in cane and bamboo work in the Andaman is estimated at about 50.

SHELL CRAFT
A fairly large number of shell workers, organised as private units, function in the islands. Their products extend from cleaned and polished decorative shells to table lamps, ashtrays, jewellery and buttons. There is much scope for improvement and expansion of sales in this line; a number of finer objects, for example, can be made from the polished shells with their pearly shine. An interesting resource material is Tortoise Shell; large shells in beautiful shades are available here, and could be put to very imaginative use. Small boxes-round and square-as well as bangles made of tortoise shell would find customers quite easily, particularly in the west. So far, articles such as table lamps and some jewellery and decorative items have been attempted.

COCONUT SHELL
Not long ago, the local industries department at Port Blair initiated training in making articles out of coconut shells. The items, which include table lamps, finger bowls and other objects, have become quite popular. Jewellery made of coconut shell is another possibility, which may find an export market.

OTHER CRAFTS
One craftsman in Webi village, in the Middle Andamans, was engaged in hats of palm leaves and bamboo strips. Before he died, a few years ago, the All India Handicraft Board arranged to train some young boys under him, to keep the craft alive. Another who specialised in making walking sticks and billiard sticks out of marblewood, also trained a group of apprentices under the sponsorship of the handicrafts Board.

CRAFTS OF NICOBAR
The Nicobarese too have their own craft traditions and skills, though there are hardly any professional craftsmen, and the production is not commercial. Below are some of their major crafts: -

Wood Work: The most important craft of the people in carpentry-constructing houses, fencing plantations and making canoes of various types. The Industries Department has imparted training in the village of Big Lapati in modern furniture making-simple chairs, tables, cupboards, etc.

There is very little wood carving or sculpting in Car Nicobar. In the other islands, however, certain wooden statues such as a male and female pair, as well as figures of birds and animals are made as house deities to ward off evil spirits. These wooden figures are well crafted and painted with bright colours.

Basketry and Mat Making: There are two important traditional crafts of the Nicobarese, usually carried on by women in their leisure time. Mats are made from coconut stems and Pandanus leaves. They are used for sitting, sleeping and making huts. In the mats, very often light and dark leaves are interwoven to make an effective pattern. These mats are soft light, and cool, and have a glossy surface. With organised production it could be a good export item.

Cross Bows: Another functional craft is the making of crossbows which consist of a central beam of wood with grooves and iron loops to hold arrows and quiver, and a bow shaped arc made of thinner and lighter wood, its ends joined with a string. A trigger made of wood or bone is fixed to the lower portion of the beam. The cross how is used with one hand and can shoot up to 150 yards. Its novel design and trigger system make it a prized handicraft article for tourists.

Other Crafts: Small canoe models are made from wood by shaping it with a knife and inserting miniature sails of cloth, and these are in great demand by visitors. A few persons also and crosses to wear round the neck. Chowra is known for earthen pots. The clay comes from the neighbouring island of Teressa, and posts are hand shaped by the women. First low fired with a fire of sticks and leaves, the finished pots have a smooth, shining surface. They are brown in colour with a pattern of thick, dark, chocolate brown stripes obtained from the juice of tender coconut husk, applied before firing.



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