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and prior to the introduction of cotton and cloth garments they clothed themselves in tapa or cloth made of the beaten bark of a tree at present believed to be the Ficus brevicuspis, also with girdles of split coconut leaves.
They are, however, expert basketmakers, and many - shaped baskets for various purposes are manufactured in different patterns of mesh, entirely out of the strips of rattan, or of the bark of the Maranta dichotoma.
What the sago is to the Papuan, the pandanus is to the Nicobarese, and its luxuriant natural growth renders unnecessary any extensive agricultural labour on his part. The other great support of life — the coconut - once planted, thrives without further attention, and for the rest, his fruits, bananas, and yams, require but the slightest amount of cultivation. The implement used in all cases seems to be the dáo only.
The islands produce no artificial material, and no raw merchandise is imported. Among themselves the natives trade in little more than pottery and canoes, and the only stores or bazaars are kept by foreigners who barter with the inhabitants. Coconuts, betel-nuts, rattan, mother-o'- pearl shells, trepang, and edible birds' nests, are the only trade commodities. The two latter are of minor importance, and are collected directly by the traders; the rattan comes from Great Nicobar only. Ambergris, for which the Nicobars were most noted in the Middle Ages, is still found, principally in the vicinity of Nankauri Harbour, and sold to traders.
All traders visiting the Nicobars have to obtain, either from Port Blair or from one of the local Government Agents, a license, at a cost of i rupee per man of the crew, which grants them “permission to visit ... for the purpose of trade during the present north-east monsoon season, on the condition that no person who may proceed thither by the vessel shall be permitted to remain behind . . . after her departure.”
Disagreements between the traders and natives are frequent, and, for the most part, seem due to the dishonesty and high-handed behaviour of the former. They get the natives into their debt
TRADERS AND COMMERCE
- often forcing them to accept things they do not require - falsify accounts, and even resort at times to acts of violence for which they have incurred punishment at Port Blair.
The merchants arrive in various kinds of vessels, from large barquentines, brigs, brigantines, and schooners, to the baglas of the Indians and Burmese kallus of 20 or 30 tons. These come mostly from Calcutta, Bombay, Negapatam, and Moulmein. The Chinese, of course, come in their national junks, vid Singapore, Acheen, or Penang.
Trade is always carried on by barter; coconuts are the standard of value, and although dollars and rupees change hands, they are employed by the natives more as ornaments than mediums of exchange.
The annual production of coconuts is believed to reach at the lowest estimate, 15,000,000; about one-third of which are exported and the remainder consumed and planted.
Except in the northern islands, there are very few paths, and those merely tracks through grass and jungle; local transport and intervillage communication at the central and southern islands are largely carried on by canoe.
DAMPIER'S SOJOURN IN GREAT NICOBAR, AND VOYAGE THENCE
TO ACHEEN IN A CANOE
I do not think any excuse is needed for here giving in full Dampier's narrative of his experiences on Great Nicobar, and of his voyage thence to Acheen in a native canoe.
His “Voyages” are but little read nowadays; and not only are the chapters extracted of much interest in themselves, but they contain a careful record of his observations on the natives and their life and customs that, in spite of changes, is fairly accurate even for a description of things at the present day, with which it may be compared.
Dampier's account of the Nicobars is by far the most full that we have of the islands in past times, but I have nowhere, in any reference to them, seen attention drawn to his adventures in their neighbourhood. His voyage in the canoe was also a very interesting as well as a somewhat bold undertaking, for there are times in the south-west monsoon when it is by no means pleasant to be caught in a small open boat on that stretch of sea, where, too, the currents run very strongly.
The fever which prostrated himself and companions on their arrival in Sumatra was doubtless aggravated by exposure in the canoe, but was in all probability contracted during their sojourn in Great Nicobar, for all who spend any length of time on shore there seem certain to suffer from it.*
* (a) Of thirty individuals of the Galathea's crew engaged in an exploring expedition up the Galathea River, and caught one night in a rain-storm