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In 1870, chital and sambhar were turned out on Kamorta, but nothing is now seen of them, except by the natives, who state that from time to time a few have been perceived here, and at Trinkat, which they reached by swimming the narrow channel intervening.
One afternoon was devoted to the exploration of the creek, which is rather deep at the mouth, and navigable by boat for several miles; all this distance it is bordered by the usual wearisome mangrove forest, in which, however, we saw numbers of parrots, whimbrel, and pigeons.
The proportion of old men among the people of the village seemed even greater than was the case at Malacca. On the headman, John, we met with the only case of tattooing found in the islands-probably the work of some Burmese trader, for neither Nicobarese nor Shom Pen tattoo or scarify themselves.
A second junk joined that already in the harbour the day after our arrival, and everybody on shore was soon drunk. The inference is obvious. The authorities at Port Blair prohibit the supply of intoxicants to the natives, and whenever they are found on board trading vessels, spirits are confiscated, and a small fine levied, in cash or articles of barter to the value of about a hundred dollars. This, however, is not always a sufficient deterrent, and on a second conviction, the Chinese skipper is awarded six months' rigorous imprisonment in the jail at Viper Island, Port Blair. The spirit is invaluable to the traders in their dealings with the natives, and is so inexpensive, that they can afford to risk its loss, since the chance of discovery is about one in a hundred.
A small feast was held during our visit, for which a number of pigs were prepared. Torches, made by binding immense palm leaves together, were set fire to, and the bristles singed off by fanning the flame on to the animals as they lay on the ground.
“Captain John” was resplendent for the occasion in a neng and dress-coat, and a friend of his looked very imposing in an officer's frogged and braided tunic.
A VISIT FROM TANAMARA
The day before we left we were surprised by the appearance of Tanamara, who arrived with one companion in a small canoe. He had declined to come up in the schooner, on the excuse that fever-devils and other evil spirits were very active in this locality. He was, he assured us, very sorry for us alone up here, and had had a dream which resulted in his setting out. (I am uncharitable enough to think that that dream had something to do with rum!) He did not wish to be seen by the shore people, of whom he seemed afraid, for he stayed aboard all day, and in the evening, when some of them came off to the ship, left for a time in his canoe. Next morning he departed at daybreak, that he might not be observed from the village.
We ourselves made sail a few hours later, with the intention of visiting Teressa. We took in water at Dring, but the only supplies obtained were coconuts.
Kamorta is 15 miles long, and of a general width of 4 miles : it attains in the extreme south-west a height of 735 feet, and in the centre rises 435 feet, but the average elevation is about 200 feet. It is of the same geological structure as Nankauri, but is covered with far less forest, and its extensive grassy downs are dotted with patches of scrub, bracken, and pandani. The presence of casuarinas high up in the middle of the island is peculiar. This species as a rule is found only on the coasts, but here they were planted by the Settlement authorities at the Government cattle-stations (between 1869-88), as it was found that this tree delights in the polycistina clay. The neighbourhood of Dring Harbour is extremely well watered, as nearly each one of the many gullies has either a stream or pond in it. A stratum of a sandy nature underlies the surface clay of this district, and by washing away, causes the latter to fall in, with the result that a number of curious hollows are formed on the tops of the rolling hills. This tendency leads to parts of the downs becoming terraced as if by artificial agency. Some thirty villages are scattered along its coasts, and the population, according to the census, has increased, principally by immigration
from Chaura and other islands, from 359 in 1886 to 488 at the present day.
Of the central group of islands, Hamilton writes :
“Ning and Goury are two fine, smooth islands, well inhabited, and plentifully furnished with several sorts of good fish, hogs, and poultry; but they have no horses, cows, sheep, nor goats, nor wild beasts of any sort but monkeys. They have no rice nor pulse, so that the kernels of coconuts, yams, and potatoes serve them for bread.
Along the north end of the easternmost of the two islands are good soundings, from 6 to 10 fathoms sand, about 2 miles offshore. The people come thronging on board in their canoes, and bring fowl, cocks ; fish, fresh, salted, and dried ; yams, the best I ever tasted; potatoes, parrots, and monkeys, to barter for old hatchets, sword-blades, and pieces of iron hoops, to make defensive weapons against their common disturbers and implacable enemies the Andamaners; and tobacco they are very greedy for ; for a leaf, if pretty large, they will give a cock ; for 3 feet of an iron hoop a large hog, and for i foot in length, a pig. They all speak a little broken Portuguese, but what religious worship they use I could not learn.” *
* Hamilton's Account of the East Indies, Pinkerton's Collection of Travels.
KACHAL AND OTHER ISLANDS
Heavy Surf—Teressa—Bompoka-A Native Legend-Hamilton-Chaura
Wizardry-Pottery-Kachal Typical of the Tropics—Nicobarese Dress West Bay—Lagoon-Mangroves—Whimbrel-Formation of KachalBirds — Visitors to the Schooner — Fever - Chinese Junks — ThatchRelics — The Reef - Megapodes — Monkeys – Full-dressed Natives — Medicine—A Death Ceremony-Talismans-Fish and Fishing-Geology.
For some hours after we left Dring the breeze was very faint, but at midday a heavy squall with rain overtook us and carried us onward, so that we were soon sailing along the southern shore of Teressa.
The island of Bompoka, which lies but a short distance from its south-east end, is high, with a central tableland, whence the ground slopes gently downwards in every direction, and is covered with forest and grass.
Seen from a distance, Teressa looks like two islands, for it is elevated at either end : the northern part is covered with forest; the southern end is all grass-land, save for a fringe of scrub and large coco-palm groves along the coast. This portion of the shore is very rocky in places, and numerous points of off-lying reefs project from the water.
A heavy swell was running from the south-west, and rank on rank of breakers—10 feet or so in height-were rolling shorewards, throwing up clouds of smoke-like foam. It would have been impossible to land without danger of losing guns, camera, etc., so we decided not to make the attempt, and therefore put about for Kachal, with the less regret in that the locality did not seem to hold out much promise as a collecting ground.
There is no harbour on its coasts, for the shores of the island, which is crescent-shaped, are almost unbroken. We afterwards heard that, two or three months previously, a Chinese junk, whose crew all reached the shore, had been wrecked on the reefs fronting this part of the island.
In their customs, style of architecture, and in the more general absence of talismans and demon - exorcising regalia, the people of Teressa and Bompoka are said to resemble those of Kar Nicobar, but their language possesses great dialectical variation.
Teressa is 34 square miles in area, and rises in the north to nearly 900 feet. The bed rock is serpentine, covered with sandstone, and there is a fringe of recent coralline alluvium round the shore, while beds of coral on the high land of the interior indicate upheaval since the formation of the older alluvium.
The soil of the grass-lands is of an igneous clay formationmagnesian clay, formed by disintegration of the plutonic rocks, whose upheaval in two successive stages brought the Nicobars into existence. Overlying it in many places are the beds of coral, and to these formations the grassy downs of the island are confined—lallang, with occasional screw-pines, a bracken-like fern (Gleichenia dichotoma), delicate ground orchids, and various scrubby plants (Kydia calycina), which point to the occurrence of annual fires. The transition from grass-land to high forest, which appears on the sandstone, is very sudden.
The graceful Nicobar palm (Ptychoraphis augusta) is common in the jungle. Whole groves of this beautiful tree fill the moister ravines, and give a characteristic appearance to the forest. Nearly equally conspicuous are large numbers of Sterculia campanulata.
Fruit and vegetables are the same as are found on Kar Nicobar, with the addition of tobacco, of which several small fields have been raised from seed imported from the west coast of India.