North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal near India is about as different as the Island of Manhattan as possible, though it is approximately the same size. While the inhabitants of Manhattan’s most densely populated city, New York, scurry from a taxi cab to their jobs as office clerks, janitors, secretaries, cashiers, and nannies for the financial elite, a mysterious tribe of Sentinalese people live within a 3-mile exclusion zone to prevent anyone from getting close enough to see how they live.
While New York City is crawling with people, it is thought that a tsunami wiped out most of the Sentinalese, and that there are a mere 50-400 people of this secretive tribe remaining. The inhabitants of North Sentinel are so protective of their way of life, that any attempt to study or contact them is met with fierce violence. They refuse to be integrated into the modern way of life.
One of the earliest accounts of outside contact with the island, in 1896, reveals that an Indian convict escaped prison and washed up on the island’s shores. He was found just a few weeks later with his throat cut and arrows protruding through his head.
In the 1980s a shipwreck occurred on the island. The Sentinalese tried to invade the ship to take its cargo, and many were killed by the men aboard.
Most recently, two people were killed when they were illegally fishing for crabs, and their boat drifted onto the island overnight. When a helicopter attempted to retrieve the bodies of the fishermen, the helicopter was shot down with arrows.
Only one Indian anthropologist has been able to contact them and reportedly spent 24 years trying to gain their trust with bribes of coconuts and iron bits in order to learn how they live. All he was able to discern is that they are likely not cannabilstic, as previously assumed, with few other details filling in the gaps.
It was discovered, that they know how to use fire, but hide it jealously, because they don’t know how to make it. Their arrows are forged from iron taken from shipwrecks, and they are consummate marksmen.
They smear their deep ebony-toned skin with white or ochre as a form of art. It is also thought that their songs contain only two notes and that they can only count to two. Anything above this number they simply call, “many.”
They have no community structure, with no ‘chiefs,’ and no ‘witch doctors.’
Because the Sentinalese have shot arrows and thrown rocks at almost any plane that tries to land there, even if delivering food or other ‘aid,’ the government has banned travel and allows the tribe to live as they see fit.
It is estimated that the Sentinalese tribe lives as people did more than 15,000 years ago – well before the infiltration of human life with artificial intelligence, the nanny state, endless technologically gizmos, dysfunctional social structures, and more ‘stuff’ ‘than any of us truly need. While reverting to tribalism isn’t necessarily the answer to all modern woes, certainly the Sentinalese guard their way of life because they understand – on some level – the preciousness of isolation.
There are other indigenous tribes still living in various degrees of separation from the rest of the world in the island chain, including the Andamanese, the Onge and the Jarawa. Each is threatened by all-seeing eye which aims to govern even the most remote areas of the world, and the devilish acts of a society gone awry.
The question is how do we protect indigenous tribes that are remote and isolated when we can’t even protect indigenous cultures right under our noses.
The Sentinalese may be a stone age people with little technological prowess, but they have kept their culture alive for around 15-60,000 years. We seem to be on the verge of WWIII in fewer than several hundred years. Who could be the wiser among us?
Image credit: northsentinelisland.com