Swept under the rug: An island nation lost in time

North Sentinel Island: home to an uncontacted tribe that kills its visitors

Located in the Bay of Bengal, India, the Sentinelese are some of the last peoples on Earth who remain virtually untouched by modern civilization. This island nation does not know about the existence of electricity, cars, or cellphones, and meets visitors from the outside world with violence.

Between 50 and 400 people are estimated to be living on North Sentinel Island, whose surface area is just 60 square kilometres. While it is officially administered by India, the government does not intervene into the island’s affairs and declared it a tribal reserve in 1956.

The island is not only separated by a distance of 1,200 kilometers from the mainland, but also by an entire era from the rest of the world. The people on the island live in huts, with fire being the only man-made light source.

There is no evidence that the tribe has discovered agriculture or created its own writing system. The main source of food appears to be the sea, where the locals use small outrigger canoes to hunt fish, sea turtles and crabs with spears.

The tribe itself is part of the Andaman Indigenous population. However, its language cannot be understood by any related ethnic group, as it has been separated from all civilizations since at least the 19th century.

In fact, the British Empire, Burma, and Japan have all attempted to occupy the island, but the tribe showed strong resistance and successfully defended their territory from the powerful nations.

Even today, the Sentinelese continue to meet visitors with aggression, as they perceive every foreigner as a threat.

In the past decades, Indian anthropologist Triloknath Pandit was one of the few explorers who successfully interacted with the tribe. In 1991, he attempted to befriend the island nation by offering them coconuts, pots, as well as iron hammers and knives.

Although the Sentinelese accepted the gifts, Pandit recounted in an interview with the BBC that “Warriors faced [his group] with angry and grim faces and were fully armed with their long bows and arrows, all set to defend their land.”

The Sentinelese, however, go far beyond intimidating their visitors.

In 2018, the tribe brutally murdered John Allen Chau, an American missionary who attempted to introduce Christianity to the island nation. In 2006, the tribe also killed two fishermen with a row of arrows, as their boat was approaching the island.

Today, it is a criminal offense to have contact with the islanders, as they are not immune to foreign diseases. Moreover, in 2017, the Indian government ruled that even photographing and filming the Sentinelese people could result in up to three years in prison.

Therefore, as the outside world has an extremely limited access to the Sentinelese, the island nation is likely to continue its traditional way of life. Ever since Pandit made a peaceful entrance in 1991, all attempts of contact have resulted in violence, so the tribe is expected to remain in isolation for many years to come.

Related Posts