How would you define a civilization? An advanced society that’s developed and well organized; if that’s your definition, you’re not far from right. It might also include agriculture, language, and to some extent, authority, and even a well defined location of it’s inhabitants. These are the traits of the modern day world, of which we term as a civilization. But there’s an exception: a small island in the midst of the Indian Ocean might be home to the last uncontacted people on Earth. Dear friends, welcome to North Sentinel Island.
Welcome To North Sentinel Island
North Sentinel Island is located about … kilometers (20 miles) off the coast of the Great Andaman archipelago — along with the nearby Nicobar Islands, a territory of India — a chain of islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, between India and the Malay Peninsula.
This isolated island is home to an indigenous tribe of people who are considered an “uncontacted tribe,” meaning they have little to no contact at all with the rest of the world. The people of North Sentinel Island, or referred to as Sentinelese, pretty much have no idea of the present-day modern civilization. Other than early colonial Europeans visiting the larger Andaman islands — with occasional shipwreck survivors being stranded on hostile North Sentinel — the island remained largely untouched.
There’s been few or no contact with the Sentinelese that there’s not much to say about them in particular. First, the population numbers somewhere between 50 and 400, but we can’t say with any certainty; and it’s seems they’ve managed to keep their corner of the Indian Ocean free of intruders for as long as they’ve lived there — roughly 60,000 years. It’s not because they or their island are unknown, either.
Second, most of you would agree, the agricultural revolution was what sparked the rise of civilizations; but the Sentinelese haven’t even developed agriculture yet — they are still hunter-gatherers for all purpose. Like seriously! That’s what all humans did prior to the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago.
North Sentinel Island can be found in the writings of Marco Polo (although modern historians doubt he ever landed there), but every now and then, it seems ships tend to find their way ashore, either on purpose or as a wreck. Today, the Indian government recognizes the island as a sovereign entity and makes efforts to ensure they’re left undisturbed.
You’re Not Welcome Here
Unlike uncontacted tribes buried deep in the Amazon Rainforest, knowledge about the Sentinelese have echoed for centuries, but they want to have nothing to do with us. Except a few isolated trips by anthropologists and shipwreck survivors, they have in violent means rejected the outside world by attacking intruders with bows, arrows, spears, and any primordial hunting tools at their disposal.
A 19th century British expedition in 1880, led by anthropologist M.V Portman might explain why the Sentinelese have been so hostile to outsiders ever since. This expedition sought to kidnap Sentinelese families in order to “study” them. Eventually, many of these unfortunate victims died shortly after from disease. Otherwise, the hostile Sentinelese were largely left alone until the mid 20th century, though, Portman was able to conduct anthropological research on the Andaman tribes successfully. The Sentinelese aren’t that a welcoming community, even before Portman’s expedition.
An Indian merchant ship called the Nineveh got wrecked ashore — roughly 13 years before the M.V. Portman incident — the survivors were assailed from the jungle. A similar incident happened in 1981 when a Panamanian freighter called the Primrose got wrecked on the reefs surrounding the island. The crew kept the violent Sentinelese at bay who rained arrows down on the wreck, they later made distress calls back which took about a week before they were rescued by a helicopter — an event that must have been a surprise to the Sentinelese. The hulk of the Primrose still remains on the reef today.
Has There Ever Been Contact?
The only known successful contact was an expedition led by anthropologist T.N Pandit in 1991, when he finally interacted with them after two long decades of distant observations. But come on, the Sentinelese still don’t want to have you there. In 2006, two poachers were killed when they broke the island’s quarantine and ran afoul of its residents.
Contact with the Sentinelese can be really rough for you, if you dare make any attempts to dock at their shores. Although, North Sentinel Island isn’t that isolated, life on the neighboring Andaman islands are now bustling with their own cities and roads — the modern today 21st century urban world — yet you’d just keep on wondering why on Earth in the bizarre name of what-the-heck would they be so (excuse us to say) “uncivilized.”
The way aboriginal societies once thrived on the other islands can offer clues as to the current lifestyle on North Sentinel Island. For now, that’s how it’ll stay. The Sentinelese don’t want to see you on their island. Keep off!
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Feb 18, 2019.