The Nicobar Islands are an archipelagic island chain in the eastern Indian Ocean and one of the most isolated in the world. They are located in Southeast Asia, 150 km north of Aceh on Sumatra, and separated from Thailand to the east by the Andaman Sea. Located 1,300 km southeast of the Indian subcontinent, across the Bay of Bengal, they form part of the Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India.
UNESCO has declared the islands as one of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves
The Nicobar Islands are part of a great island arc created by the collision of the Indo-Australian Plate with Eurasia. The collision lifted the Himalayas and most of the Indonesian islands, and created a long arc of highlands and islands, which includes the Arakan Yoma range of Burma, the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and the islands off the west coast of Sumatra, including the Banyak Islands and Mentawai Islands.
The climate is warm and tropical, with temperatures ranging from 22 to 30 °C. Rainfall is heavy due to annual monsoons and measures around 3000 to 3800 mm each year. The vegetation of the Nicobars is typically divided into the coastal mangrove forests and the interior evergreen and deciduous Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests. Additionally, several islands contain extensive inland grasslands, though these are thought to result from human intervention.
The Nicobar Islands are recognized as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, the Nicobar Islands rain forests, with many endemic species.
As a result of lower sea levels during the ice ages, the Andaman Islands were linked to the Southeast Asian mainland, but it is not believed that the Nicobar Islands ever had a land bridge to the continent. Lower sea levels did link the islands to one another: Great Nicobar and Little Nicobar were linked to each other, and Nancowry, Chaura, Katchall, Trinka, Camorta, and the nearby smaller islands were linked to one another as well.
The Nicobar Islands are believed to have been inhabited for thousands of years. Six indigenous Nicobarese languages are spoken on the islands, which are part of the Mon–Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family, which includes Mon, Khmer and Vietnamese languages of Southeast Asia, and the Munda languages of India. An indigenous tribe living at the southern tip of Great Nicobar, called the Shompen, may be of Mesolithic Southeast Asian origin.
The earliest extant references to the name “Nicobar” is in the Sri Lankan Pali Buddhist chronicles, the Dipavamsa (c. 3rd or 4th century CE) and the Mahavamsa (c. 4th or 5th century), which state that the children of the followers of the legendary founder of the Sri Lankan Kingdom, Vijaya, landed on Naggadipa (the island of the children, from the Pali nagga meaning ‘naked’).The modern name is likely derived from the Chola dynasty name for the islands, Nakkavaram or ‘Puup Pii’ (literally, “naked man” in Tamil) which is inscribed on the Thanjavur (Tanjore) inscription of 1050 CE. Marco Polo (12th-13th century) also referred to this island as ‘Necuverann’.
The history of organised European colonisation on the islands began with the Danish East India Company in 1754/56. During this time they were administrated from Tranquebar (in continental Danish India) administrated under the name of Frederiksøerne; missionaries from the Moravian Church Brethren’s settlement in Tranquebar attempted a settlement on Nancowry and died in great numbers from disease; the islands were repeatedly abandoned due to outbreaks of malaria: 1784–1807/09, 1830–1834 and finally from 1848 gradually for good. Between 1778 and 1783, William Bolts attempted to establish an Austrian colony on the islands on the mistaken assumption that Denmark–Norway had abandoned its claims to the islands.
Italy made an attempt at buying the Nicobar Islands from Denmark between 1864 and 1868. The Italian Minister of Agriculture and Commerce Luigi Torelli started a negotiation that looked promising, but failed due to the unexpected end of his Office and the first La Marmora Cabinet. The negotiations were interrupted and never brought up again.
Denmark’s presence in the islands ended formally on 16 October 1868 when it sold the rights to the Nicobar Islands to Britain, which in 1869 made them part of British India.
During World War II, the islands were occupied by Japan between 1942 and 1945.Together with the Andaman Islands, they became a union territory of India in 1950.