The North Sentinel Island

In the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal lies a group of islands known as the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Approximately 800 km South-East from India, the archipelago officially belongs to and is under administrative control of India.

The geographical location of the North Sentinel Island
The geographical location of the North Sentinel Island

The North Sentinel island is 72 square km large and belongs to this group of islands. Nevertheless, to say that it is under the control of India is almost laughable. Indeed, the North Sentinel is an autonomous region that is known for being the home of one of the most hostile indigenous tribes in the world: the Sentinels.

The North Sentinel Island seen from above
The North Sentinel Island seen from above

There are no records of this people having ever been into contact with the modern world, and the few encounters between strangers and the Sentinels have usually ended up in drama. 

They are supposedly close to the Jarawa and Onge tribes, which inhabit other islands of the Andaman archipelago. Nevertheless, despite some initial hostility, these last tribes have had normal contacts with the outside world, whereas the Sentinels are known for killing (or at least injuring) any person that sets foot on the island, including foreign fishermen. 

For that reason, the Indian government prohibits all visits to the islands. In 2004, the Tsunami that severely affected South-East Asia, had begun in the area of the Andaman islands. When a helicopter was sent by the Indian government to the North Sentinel island in look for survivors, it eventually turned around and left when several men armed with bows and arrows started to point at it. Thus, there are no records of how that population was attained by the tsunami. In fact, there are not even records accounting for the exact population of the island!

We know little to nothing about the habits of the people, but it is assumed that they are hunter-gatherers and do not know agriculture. Hence, the Sentinels remain one of the few isolated peoples in the world. This hostility and isolation are comprehensible, when we think that most that comes from the outside world has probably been violence and disease, much like the indigenous peoples during the colonizing period.

Check out this amazingly interesting documentary of 1975, entitled “Man in search of man”, about the Andaman’s peoples and which portraits the contact with the North Sentinel island starting from minute 10. While filming this, the director received an arrow on his leg.

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