The Mysterious Tribe of North Sentinel Island
By | May 31, 2019
The idea of modern-day societies encountering cultures and people who have not met outsiders may seem like a throwback to the Age of Discovery. However, there are still approximately 100 uncontacted tribes throughout the world with most being in the Amazon Rainforest and on the island of New Guinea. Curiously, the most well-known and notorious tribe of isolated people is in on an island in the Indian Ocean a short boat ride from a city of over 100,000.
North Sentinel Island is a part of the Andaman archipelago, a chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal between Myanmar and India. The island is home of the Sentinelese, an indigenous tribe that has inhabited the island by what some experts think might be up to 60,000 years. Nobody knows their language thus no one knows what the Sentinelese call themselves. Experts cannot agree on how many Sentinelese there are (from a few dozen to several hundred). Most attempted contact from the outside world has been greeted by hostility and violence. India, which has nominal control of the island, strictly controls any attempt to land on the island by law.
North Sentinel escaped the waves of colonization that washed the world in modern times mostly because of its location. While most of the rest of the Andaman Islands fell victim to British colonization North Sentinel went untouched because it was out of the main byways of the archipelago. It was also small being just over 24 square miles and without a good harborage. The entire island is covered in forest with the exception of a narrow beach.
The first record of the Sentinelese occurred in 1771 when an East India hydrographic survey ship, the Diligent reported seeing bonfires on the shore. No contact was made and the Diligent sailed on. Nearly a century later in 1867 an Indian merchant ship, the Nineveh, crashed into the reefs about the island. One hundred and six passengers and crew safely evacuated on boats to the North Sentinel beach. The castaways stayed on the beach for three days when on the third morning they were suddenly attacked by the natives. The captain of the Nineveh wrote, “The savages were perfectly naked, with short hair and red painted noses, and were making sounds like pa on ough; their arrows appeared to be tipped with iron.”
The captain managed to escape in a boat and get assistance. When he returned he found that the castaways had fended off the Sentinelese with sticks and stones.