This paper explores practices of kidnap and confinement in the Andamans penal colony, for the period 1771–1864. It argues that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries indigenous captivity was key to successful colonization. The British kidnapped islanders in an effort to educate them about the supposed benefits of colonial settlement, and in the hope that they would become their cultural advocates. The paper shows also that the close observations that accompanied the confinement of islanders informed global discussions about ‘race’ and ‘origin’, so that the Islands were brought into a larger global frame of understanding around indigenous – settler contact. The paper draws out some of the complexities and specificities of the colonial encounter in the Andamans. It argues that with respect to sexual violence, there was a significant gender dimension to colonization and confinement. Finally, it suggests that in a settlement comprising a penal colony and its associated infrastructure (and no free settlement) there were no straightforward distinctions between ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized’. Rather, there were significant overlaps between the treatment and experiences of convicts and islanders, and these expressed something of the inherent ambiguities of the penal colonization of the Andamans itself.Peer-reviewedPost-prin
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