North Sentinel Island: a 60,000-Year-Old Tribe

Andaman Islands - Aerial View
Andaman Islands – Aerial View

North Sentinel Island

Humanity has explored almost every mysterious or unique part of the world. But there are places he is yet to inspect. One of those strange locations is North Sentinel Island.

North Sentinel Island is located in the Andaman archipelago of the Bay of Bengal, in the north-eastern Indian Ocean about 130 km (81 mi) southwest of the coasts of Myanmar.

North Sentinel Island - Andaman and Nicobar
North Sentinel Island – Andaman and Nicobar

Sentinel Island was first discovered in 1771 by a British investigator, who noticed a fire at night on the island, indicating that it was inhabited.

This island is known for being one of the most beautiful places in the world, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. It is famous for its stunning scenery and green vegetation. No studies have been made on the land animals or marine life around the island.

What is known, is that North Sentinel Island is surrounded by large coral reefs and mangroves are also known to fringe its banks. Sharks and dolphins have been sighted in the area, as well as sea turtles, which are a major food source for the Sentinelese tribe. According to an 1880 report by British Naval officer Maurice Vidal Portman, North Sentinel Island is an open, “park-like” jungle with many groves of bullet wood trees and large buttressed specimens of Malabar silk cotton tree.

The Sentinelese

Not much is known about the Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island other than that they are very hostile towards outsiders, often attacking any person coming close. Other Andaman islanders generally avoid the waters surrounding North Sentinel Island, knowing well that Sentinelese people reject contact with violence.

Nobody knows the exact population of Sentinelese residing on this strange island, it is thought to be somewhere between 50 and 100 people, but it could be much more. Based on the most recent studies by anthropologists, these people have been living in isolation on the island for about 60,000 years, where they endure a Palaeolithic lifestyle.

Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island -
Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island –

Not only is their population unclear, but so too are the customs and cultures of this hostile community. The only notorious thing about Sentinelese is their brutality and refusal to converse with outsiders. Even though they are technically Indians, their dialect and lifestyle are nothing like the locals because they are separated from their neighbours in every aspect i.e., socially, economically, physically, and culturally. Moreover, these people are yet to be exposed to the contemporary world and do not have any understanding of advanced technologies.

The small island’s secluded inhabitants are among the only mostly uncontacted groups left in the world, and they owe this isolation in part to geography–the isolated North Sentinel Island is a tiny island, far from major sea routes, and is surrounded by a shallow coral reef that has no natural harbour–in part to protection laws imposed by the Indian government, and in part to their own violent protection of their privacy.

Attempted Contact

Trespassing on North Sentinel Island has resulted in numerous incidents. Almost every foreigner who has entered Sentinel’s territory has been attacked by the native tribe.

One of the first recorded attempts to make contact occurred in 1880, when, following British imperial policies regarding uncontacted tribes, a twenty-year-old man, Maurice Portman, abducted an elderly couple and four children from North Sentinel Island

In 1896, an Indian felon was brutally murdered when he tried to wash up on their coastline.

Triloknath Pandit offering coconuts to the Sentinelese
Triloknath Pandit offering coconuts to the Sentinelese

Between 1967 and 1991, several attempts at friendly contact with the Sentinelese were made. Out of these, only one of them was successful; an expedition led by Indian anthropologist Triloknath Pandit.

A documentary crew was welcomed with a bombardment of arrows in 1974.

North Sentinel Island – A glimpse into Prehistory

In 2004, after the tsunami, the Indian Government send helicopters to hover over the area in an attempt to monitor people’s safety. The helicopter was ruthlessly attacked by the tribesmen.

In 2006, two Indian fishermen fell asleep on their boat after some heavy drinking. They drifted into the shallows of the island, where they were brutally murdered by the Sentinelese. Moreover, when an aircraft was assigned to rescue the bodies, it was greeted by Sentinels ready to attack.

In 2016, a 26-year-old Christian missionary John Allen Chou was killed with arrows by the Sentinelese after he tried to approach them on several occasions. It seems that the Sentinelese buried his remains in much the same way they buried the two Indian sailors in 2006.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Preservation Act

The Andaman and Nicobar Island Preservation Act, 1956 forbids travelling to North Sentinel Island, or approaching within five nautical miles (9.26 km), in order to prevent tribal communities from contracting a foreign disease for which they had acquired no immunity.

Due to the efforts of advocates, these indigenous peoples were given the right to sovereignty and self-determination by the United Nations Deceleration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island
Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island

These people, therefore, have the right to be left alone if they don’t want to interact with outsiders. According to this agreement, governments, scholars, tourists, and others are not permitted to disturb these tribes, no matter how good their intentions are. Everyone is expected to respect the privacy of the natives. If they refrain from contacting the outside world then we should not engage with them through any means, as they intuitively recognise outsiders as real and obvious risk.

It was all due to these mishaps and incidents that the Indian Government prohibited its citizens, researchers, and anyone else from making any contact with the Sentinelese or visiting their Island as it puts lives their lives in danger. It is also considered unlawful to be within 5 miles of their territory.

3 thoughts on “North Sentinel Island: a 60,000-Year-Old Tribe

  1. I’ve heard about this tribe many times. I agree, that we have no right to disturb these people if they choose to live outside of society. I bet the island they live on is beautiful, how lucky of them to have it all to themselves!

  2. There are many islands or territories that are uncovered in the last few decades with the help of communication tools. I enjoy discovering such places and trace their history to find connections between the life there today.

Leave a Reply