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have resulted in great mortality from this cause, although where jungle exists an improvement is said to have taken place when the land has been cleared.
The average mean annual temperature is about 82.5°, the maximum in the shade between 93° and 94o and the minimum 73° March and April are the hottest months, with means of 82° and 83° and a maximum of 89°, while August to Decemberwhen the mean temperature is 79°—is the coolest part of the year. The mean annual temperature at Nankauri is 80°, and while the highest reading recorded is 99°, the lowest is 70°. The mean diurnal range there varies between 9° and 11° only.
Although the seasons of the monsoons are the same, they are not so well defined among the Nicobars as on the coast of the Bay of Bengal generally; but heavy rains occur in May, June and July—when the south-west monsoon is at its heightand rains rarely cease until December. March is the driest month, and while from May to December there is an average monthly rainfall of 12 inches, with twenty wet days per month, for the rest of the year the monthly average is only 2.9 inches, with showers on twenty-six days only.
At Nankauri the mean humidity is 79 per cent., and the annual rainfall 110 inches; while, as regards the southern group of islands, there is good ground for the belief that much more rain falls, probably not less than an average of 150 inches annually; this is doubtless attributable to the forest-clad mountains of Great and Little Nicobar.
The prevailing winds are the monsoons—the south-west from the beginning of May till mid-October, followed by variable winds to the end of the year, the north-east monsoon from January until April, with an interval of more variable winds before the other sets in. Hurricanes seldom visit the islands,
which caused much destruction in the forest. During the southwest monsoon frequent thunderstorms and gales of wind occur, especially in the vicinity of Great Nicobar. The north-east
monsoon brings fine weather, but sometimes blows with considerable strength.
A remarkable feature of the Nicobars is the manner in which the general botanical appearance of the islands coincides with the geological division, for, while the southern group (Great and Little Nicobar with Kachal) are wooded from beach to summit, the forests of the other islands are restricted to the plutonic rocks and the slopes and dells of the older alluvium, while the hilly plateaux and ridges are covered with park-like grass heaths.
The most prominent features of the flora are, perhaps, the quantities of Barringtonia speciosa, which, with their large shiny leaves and beautiful crimson-tipped tassel-like blossoms, grow all along the coasts; the tall screw-pines (Pandanus larum), bearing the immense fruits that provide the main food of the natives; and the graceful Nicobar palms (Ptychoraphis augusta), which occur in all the forests. Giant bamboos are extremely scarce, but the climbing species (Dinachloa) is common everywhere in the jungle, and beautiful tree ferns (Alsophila albo-setacea) grow in the forest and along the river banks of the south.
A mangosteen (Garcinia, sp.) and a cinnamon (Cinnamomum obtusifolium) grow wild, as do the pepper vine (Piper betel) that supplies the sireh leaf, and the betel palm (Areca catechu). These two are also cultivated, and it is said that the latter is not indigenous.
The large numbers of milky climbers leads to the hope that some rubber-yielding varieties may be discovered capable of supplying a sufficient quantity of raw material for export. The vanilla orchid occurs, and the southern forests produce quantities of rattan, both as a small variety that is exported, and a large cane two inches or so in diameter, which the natives use for the horizontal rafters in the circular framework of their houses.
Semecarpus heterophyllus, Morinda citrifolia, Artocarpus lakoocha, and A. chaplasha, Cordia mixa, Mallotus philipenensis, and Amomum fenglii, may be mentioned specially as species capable of yielding commercial products; but their sparseness, coupled with the fact that it is easier and cheaper to cover the soil with coconuts and areca palms, puts out of the question the possibility of utilising the species to any profit.
The Nicobars produce few trees of any commercial value as timber, and those probably not in large quantities: the best of these are Myristica irya and Terminalia bialata, and of secondary value in this respect are Mimusops littoralis, Hopea odorata, Artocarpus chaplasha and lakoocha, Calophyllum spectabile, Terminalia procera and species of Garcinias.
Evergreen forest predominates, and mixed forest appears only occasionally, but pure leaf-shedding forest is not met with; and as regards species, there is a marked absence of Dipterocarpus trees.
It is in the writings of Ptolemy that we find the first probable reference to the Nicobars, for after the Andamans, the next group mentioned by him is the “Barussae," which seems to be the Lankha Bálús of the older Arab navigators, since these are certainly the Nicobars.* The islands were also known to the same voyagers under the names of Megabalu and Legabalu.
The Chinese, another race of great navigators in these seas, have records of the Nicobars for a thousand years and more.
The next reference of any importance is that of an Arab trader who came into contact with the group during a voyage to Southern China in 851 A.D.f “Nagabalus, which are pretty well peopled : both the men and women there go naked, except that the women conceal their private parts with leaves of trees. When shipping is among these islands, the inhabitants come off in embarkations, and bring with them ambergris and coconuts, which they truck for iron, for they want no clothing, being free from the inconveniences of heat or cold.”
Rashuddin writes of the islands in nearly the same terms, * Sir Henry Yule.
+ Vide translation by the Abbé Renaudet, in Pinkerton's Collection of Travels, p. 183.
under the name of Lákvárem, opposite Lamuri (a kingdom of Sumatra), and the very imaginatively-minded author, Friar Oderic, * compiled a chapter on Nicoveran which is a mass of the wildest fable, utterly unworthy of credence, containing, as it does, details of people with faces like dogs, who are stout in battle (not a characteristic of the modern Nicobarese) and worshippers of the ox, while their king possessed strings of pearls, and the largest ruby in the world.
“Concerning the island of Necuveran, when you leave the island of Java the less (Sumatra) and the kingdom of Lambri, you sail north almost 150 miles and then you come to two islands, one of which (Great Nicobar) is called Necuveran. In this island they have no king nor chief, but live like beasts. And I tell you they all go naked, both men and women, and do not use the slightest covering of any kind. They are idolaters. Their woods are all of noble and valuable kinds of trees; such as Red Sanders, and Indian-nut, and Cloves, and Brazil, and sundry other good spices. There is nothing else worth relating,” says Marco Polo, who probably only passed near the islands in or about the year 1293, but who gathered fairly accurate information about them.
After the Cape of Good Hope was doubled in 1497, the islands were frequented by voyagers, as expeditions to the East became more numerous.
“It was the Nicobar custom in 1566,” says Master Caesar Frederike, that “if any ship come near to that place or coast as they pass that way, as in my voyage it happened, as I came from Malacca through the channel of Sombrero, there came two of their barques near our ship, laden with fruit, as with monces (which we call Adam's apples, which fruit is like to our turnips, but is very sweet and good to eat). They would not come into the ship for anything we could do, neither would they take any money for
These rags we let down with a rope into their barque unto them, and look what they thought their things to be worth; so much fruit they would make fast to the rope, and let us hale it in: and
it was told me that sometimes a man shall have for an old shirt a good piece of amber.” *
In his East Africa and Malabar,t Barbosa refers shortly to the Nicobars. “In front of Sumatra, across the Gulf of the Ganges, are five or six small islands, which have very good water and ports for ships: they are inhabited by Gentiles, poor people, they are called Niconbar ; and they find in them very good amber, which they carry thence to Malacca and other ports."
Captain John Davis, of Arctic fame, the inventor of the "back-staff,” the earliest form of quadrant, piloted a Dutch ship to the East Indies, and touched, in 1599, at the Central Nicobars. He wrote that “... the people brought in great store of hens, oranges, lemons, and other fruit, and some ambergris which we bought for pieces of linen cloth and table napkins. These isles are pleasant and fruitful, lowland, and have good road for ships. The people are most base, only living upon fruits and fish, not manuring the ground, and therefore having no rice.”
During the reign of Elizabeth, Sir James Lancaster made several voyages to the East Indies, and touched at the Nicobars. Two of his officers, Barker and May, have chronicled a visit to the islands in 1592, in a description that would apply more accurately to the Pulo Wai group. “The islands of Nicobar," says Barker, “we found inhabited with Moors, and after we came to an anchor, the people came aboard us in their canoes with hens, cocos, plantains, and other fruits, and in two days they brought to us royals of plate, giving us them for calicut cloth, which royals they find by diving for them in the sea, which were lost not long before by two Portugal ships which were bound for China and were cast away there. They call in their language the coco, calambe (Malay, klapa); the plantain, pison (Mal., pisang); a hen, iam (Mal., ayam); a fish, iccan (Mal., ikan); and a hog, babi (Mal., babi)”; and May, the other writer, says that the natives were in religion Mohammedans.
* Extractes of Master Cæsar Frederike : his Eighteen Yeeres' Indian Observations. Purchas: his Pilgrimes, vol. ii., p. 1710.
+ Hakluyt Library.