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Descendant of Nicobari chief who helped sink WW1 German ship to take island culture to Saxony museum 

In October 1914, the German light cruiser Emden was tasked to take on the British ships in the Indian Ocean and while sailing, it reached Nancowrie. It was destroyed in November 1914 by an Australian light cruiser near Direction Island.

Ships near the shores of Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Representational/Express file)
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Over a century after a Nancowrie princess helped the British sink a German warship during World War I, her great-grandson has been invited by an ethnographic museum in Germany’s Saxony to explain the unique handicrafts and culture of the Nicobari island chain.

Nancowrie is an island in the Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands.

In October 1914, the German light cruiser Emden was tasked to take on the British ships in the Indian Ocean and while sailing, it reached Nancowrie.

Then, the chief of the island was Princess Islon, and she was believed to have worked for the British. She welcomed Emden thinking it was a British ship but soon got to know of its real identity.

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As Commander Karl Friedrich Max von Muller left the island with the light cruiser which had already destroyed several ships transporting troops and provisions for the British, Islon tipped off the nearest British signal station about Emden.

She was later conferred with the title of ‘Rani of Nancowry’.

Emden was destroyed in November 1914 by an Australian light cruiser near Direction Island.

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After 108 years, Germany’s State Ethnographic Collections Saxony has invited ‘Prince of Nancowry’ Rashid Yusoof, great-grandson of Islon, to be a part of their research as a specialist on priceless handicrafts of the Nicobari tribe, which are more than 150 years old.

Ethnography is the scientific description of people and cultures with their customs, habits, and differences.

In a letter to Yusoof, Leontine Meijer-van Mensch, the director of the museum at Saxony, said, “I would like to cordially invite you to the December 8, 2022, opening of the exhibition ‘winds of Change’ that you have been a valued specialist consultant.” The handicraft items that are more than 150 years old were collected by Germans during their travels, said Yusoof who has reached Germany.

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“I was invited to explain the nature of the handicrafts and their importance among the Nicobari tribe. I am happy to share that the Nicobari tribe and our Nancowrie Island no longer remain a remote place.

“Such initiatives will help people to understand our culture and tradition, which are not known to many,” Yusoof told PTI.

The German museum has Nancowrie handicrafts such as wooden sharks, ships, and wall hangings.

“One section of the museum contains hunting and fishing tools of the Nancowry tribe. There are many wooden statues too and each statue signifies the lifestyle of the tribe,” he said.

Yusoof was also invited by the Denmark government to an event in February next year to bring their rich and vibrant culture. The Danish government also ruled Nicobar Island for some period in the 18th century.

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Andaman & Nicobar MP, Kuldeep Rai Sharma, welcomed the initiatives taken by the German and Denmark authorities.

“Nicobari tribes are known for their bravery and rich culture. I am happy that people, especially our young generation, will be able to know more about them. I have plans to promote their lost recipes in fares and food exhibitions,” Sharma said.

First published on: 08-12-2022 at 18:58 IST
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