The Andaman and Nicobar Regional Centre of the Anthropological Survey of India was established in December 1951. Since then the anthropologists working in the
organization have been collecting ethnographic specimens as part of their research work. After a few years an anthropological museum (later named as Zonal Anthropological Museum) was set up at this Centre to document, preserve and display the cultural heritage of the people of these islands.
The Zonal Anthropological Museum caters information on history, social organization, architecture, economic pursuits, means of transport, arts and crafts of the people of these islands. The populations of these islands are the inhabitants of pre-colonial period as well as the successive immigrants of the pre and post-independence years.
How and when the Andaman and Nicobar islands were peopled for the first time are still unanswered questions. Anthropologists and archaeologists think that human groups, makers of small Mesolithic stone tools, inhabited these islands at least two millennia back. The islanders never lived in complete isolation. Accounts of sailors from different parts of the world mention that they visited these islands since ancient times.
During the last quarter of the eighteenth century the British navy established a base in the Andaman islands, which was withdrawn after a few years.
In the third quarter of the nineteenth century the British government of India established a penal settlement in the southern part of the Great Andaman islands and later in some parts of the Nicobar islands. The programme of colonisation changed the demographic profile of these islands immensely. The convicts who were brought to the Andaman islands by the authorities were encouraged to settle down permanently as self-supporters. Some of them got married in the penal settlement and settled down. As there was a dearth of female population of their respective native places. Thus a community was formed, which came to be known as the Local Born or simply Locals. This is a casteless egalitarian society; excepting their division into the religious groups of Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
The colonial authorities of the Andaman islands were looking for persons who would work as labourers for laying roads, felling trees and performing all kinds of manual works. They recruited a large number of persons from Chotanagpur area of the present Jharkhand state and sent them to the Andamans. Those people came to be known as Ranchi after the principal township of their natal region. They are also known as Ranchiwala or Saathi. Though they look like one people to the outsiders, there are not less than a dozen of traditional social groups among them. Some of those are the Chik Baraiks, Gonds, Lohars, Kharias, Kumhars, Mundas and the Oraons.
Each of the group prefers to marry among themselves. While the Locals, Moplahs or Bhantus were primarily agriculturists and horticulturists, the Ranchiwalas were landless wage-earners.
In the post-Independence years the rate of immigration grew manifold. It started with rehabilitation of the Bengali refugees displaced from their homeland due to
partition of India. During the decades of 50s and 60s they had been settled in different parts of the Andaman islands. This group of people have proved their efficiency in agriculture and horticulture. There are a good number of office workers, teachers and businessmen among the Bengalis.
Since long the Punjabis have remained backbone of
the local police force.
A large number of citizens from other parts of India have added colour to the cultural mosaic of this island territory. There are people from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and some other states who can be found in various walks of life. Besides, there is a small Nepalese population in these islands. About two hundred families of ex-servicemen were settled along the east coast of the Great Nicobar island; those people were from different parts of the country.