Last week we enjoyed the food and cookery of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the seventeenth century, today we travel to the Andaman Islands in the second half of the nineteenth century to find out about the cuisine.
The Andaman Islands are located in the southeastern part of the Bay of Bengal. Our information comes from Observations on the Andamanese (1870), by Francis Day.
Having no ties to keep them to one place, the Andamanese wander about for food, or as their fancy dictates. They have scarcely a want, but as luxuries they esteem tobacco, especially Cavendish, and "grog." They do not care for sugar, but are immoderately fond of honey, they eat the cuttle fish, are much addicted to chitons, but despise raw oysters. Formerly they appear to have consumed almost anything; on wet days, worms, caterpillars, roots, nuts, mangrove seeds, sharks, shell-fish, &c, &c, articles which they now generally refuse. Amongst fish, they prefer the mullet, and one day having placed a quantity of different species before them, they helped themselves in the following order, observing that the first took the best, the last got those which were most inferior: Chorinemus, Platyeephalus, Horse-mackerel or Caranx, Chrysophrys calamara, and lastly Tetrodon or frog-fish, which latter has generally the credit of being poisonous. They eat cats, but now spare dogs, because they are found to be useful.
Government instituted various Homes or places of shelter for these aborigines, which many of them make their head quarters. It is a principle wisely commenced, to induce them to cease plundering, and which has more undoubtedly had a most satisfactory effect. But it is a mistake to suppose that they subsist on the food provided by Government, for the whole allowance is only 200 rupees monthly to cover all expenses. ….
At the "Home," the following is the manner in which they pass the day. At a very early hour they have something to eat, for about 4 A. M. their uncovered bodies become cold, which necessitates their replenishing their fires, and once up eating begins. When residing in the same house, there is no rest after this early hour. About 7 A. M. some of the men go out foraging according to the season, it may be pig-hunting, fishing, or capturing tortoises or turtles. The young men and boys assist in making, paddling and steering canoes. The women in a body go for shells, shellfish, fruits and bulbs, in which they are assisted by the girls ; whilst the elderly people keep at home, making baskets, nets, bows and arrows, attending the sick, &c. Between 2 and 8 p. M. the foragers return with their spoil, these are as far as possible equally divided amongst all.
Prior to the advent of the Europeans, the Andamanese lived entirely upon the products of the waters and of the jungles, never tilling the soil, and storing up but little for a future day's supply. One of the first questions usually asked respecting these people is, "Are not they cannibals?" They repudiate the idea, and in return wish to know "why when food abounds should they devour human beings," a feast which they believe would cause their death.
They eat nothing raw, not even fruit. In cooking meat, they either throw it on the embers, turning it over when the underside appears to be done, or else cooking the flesh of the tortoise, turtle, or pork in unbaked earthen chatties*. Their appetites are large, for they appeared to be easily able to consume 6 lb. of fish at one sitting, and after a very short time had no objection to begin again. A large Pinna forms their plate, a Nautilus shell their drinking cup. They have no regular periods for their meals, when they are hungry they eat, no matter at what time, whilst it is an almost essential commencement to give them a good meal before starting for any excursion.
Their principal food at the first or north-sun period is honey, fruit, and turtles. In the rainy season, they do not wander about very much, owing to the difficulty of obtaining shelter, then the jack seeds last them for three months. In the early part of the middle season pigs are common, but when becoming scarce fishing and turtle-catching takes their place. In the report for July, 1865, I observed it stated "they are only now aware that cucumbers, potatoes, and pumpkins are eatable, and the use of tobacco, all which a short time ago, they used to fling away."
Pigs, towards the month of September, begin to rove about the jungles, finding their way to the coasts and creeks, and it is during this time, that many are killed. In the year 1865, they first began to use dogs for pig-hunting which they learnt from some run-away Burmese convicts, previously they had to lie in wait hours and sometimes days, even in the hopes of seeing one or two, now the dogs find them almost at once, they are consequently held in great esteem, and every dog they see they wish for. The Andamanese, however, have curious ideas respecting pork as food, and when they are able to choose, use it as follows. The children and weakly persons eat sucklings, the bachelors and spinsters use those of medium size, whilst adults prefer the stronger boar.
As they capture their principal supply of fish and turtle during the low tides, and do not dry or salt any, it follows that they have abundance at that time of the lunar month, whilst at the intervals they are comparatively destitute. At the change of the monsoon (October) they generally shift their quarters to more healthy spots. One of the encampments which has been dwelt in for some time, is not a model of cleanliness, whilst innumerable fleas and other animals render going through it anything but a pleasing occupation, Beef they consider too coarse for food, neither as a rule will they eat birds. About January the Dugong shows itself in Port Mouat Bay, coming to feed upon a species of sea weed which is also relished by the turtles.
In January likewise honey becomes common and they bring down the honey-comb with great dexterity, neither smoking the bees nor being stung themselves. A wild shrub "Jenedah" exists in the jungles, and its juice appears to have an intoxicating effect upon the bees. The person who is to ascend the tree, takes a piece in his hand, and biting through the bark, the pungent juice exudes into his mouth, this is spat at the bees, which are said (for I did not personally witness it, though I was shown the shrub, and an Andamanese went through the process,) to become intoxicated, or else to fly away.
* I have seen them cook a prawn by placing it inside the bowl of a pipe which they were smoking!
The recipe for the day is only tenuously suggested by the topic. I thought we had had enough curries for the week (is there such a thing as ‘enough’ curry?) so have made a different choice.
From The Times of India of October 28, 1916, I give you:
Caramel Rice Pudding.
Line a pudding mould with caramel sugar prepared by stirring a few ounces of castor sugar over a fire till it turns a light brown colour. Parboil one gill of rice in water, drain, and cover with one pint of rice in water, drain, and cover with one pint of milk and a pinch of salt. Cook for twenty minutes. Mix two yolks and one white of egg with 8 oz. of sugar, flavour with lemon rind, vanilla, or almond. Add the rice carefully so as not to break the grains, then put in the remaining white whipped to a firm froth, and mix lightly. Place in the prepared mould. Boil sufficient water in a saucepan to come up to two thirds of the height of the mould, and place the pudding mould in the water. Let it cook one hour. Let it rest after cooking, then turn the pudding out of the mould and serve with caramel sauce. This is made by adding enough water to the remaining caramel to dissolve it.
The Andanman Islanders had a fascinating culture. A bit after the account you cite, Radcliffe-Brown wrote an early anthropological study reporting on his long stay with them. Their views about how eating certain food makes spirits able to smell them -- and maybe to attack them -- was really interesting. I summarized a bit of it here:
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