Several attempts have been made to establish contact with the inhabitants of this island in the Indian Ocean, almost all of them rejected with arrows and spears by their inhabitants. So much so that the Indian government has created a zone of exclusion and does not take action if the inhabitants of the Sentinel of the north kill anyone who approaches.
The Sentinel Island in the north may look like an island if we see it from Google Earth. It is about a piece of land of about 72 square kilometres located in the Gulf of Bengal, about 1,300 kilometres from the Indian coast, located in the archipelago of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Seen from a boat or a helicopter it may seem like a little paradise. However, do not approach: the locals will kill you and the Indian government allows it.
Sentileses are one of the last tribes to survive without practically any influence of civilization. There are several reasons for this: the island has no strategic interest, has no interesting resource, is in the middle of nowhere and a coral reef makes the approach to the island very difficult. But above all, they remain isolated because their inhabitants have repeatedly rejected the contact in a violent way: arrows, stones and insults at best. Their number is unknown, but it is estimated that they are between 50 and 400.
One of the first contacts with the Islanders that has been recorded occurred in the late summer of 1771 when an Indian ship, the Nineveh, ran aground on the coral reef that surrounds the island and the 106 survivors came to the beach. Far from receiving help from the locals, they had to resist their attacks until they were finally rescued by the Royal Navy.
A few years later, the British naval officer Maurice Vidal Portman landed on the island, finding several small abandoned settlements and managed to capture six Sentileses, an elderly couple and four children. They were transferred to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but the elderly became rapidly ill and died. Given this, they decided to return the young people to their home.
It is unknown how long the island has remained isolated from the rest of the world, but there are reasons to think that it is many thousands of years, since its inhabitants have a greater resemblance to Africans than to the inhabitants of Southeast Asia. The apparent weakness of their immune system against foreign viruses and bacteria is another clue, and also when the British explorers tried to establish contact with members of the Onge tribes of the nearby islands, they did not understand their language.
It is believed that they could take 65,000 years there. Agriculture appeared 7000 years ago, writing about 5000 years ago, the Cheops pyramid has 4500 and mammoths became extinct 3700 ago.
Leopold III of Belgium Was Not Well Received
The island remained basically forgotten during a good part of the 20th century. Since 1964 the Indian government tried to establish contact with the Islanders every so often, although they were all answered with arrows, stones and gestures from the locals, taking their hands to the genitals.
In 1975, King Leopold of Belgium made a diplomatic tour of the archipelago. During a night cruise, they tried to set foot on the island, but a warrior offered them the typical Sentilenesa reception and an arrow hit one of the cameras, a situation that caused the boat to turn around immediately.
The Ship That Made Them Make The Leap From The Stone Age to the Iron Age
In 1981, a HONG KONG cargo ship, the Primrose ran aground on the reef that surrounds the island. It is possible that the captain had heard some story about that island because he ordered all his men to remain on the ship – which was not in danger of an immediate collapse – waiting for rescue.
A few days later, they detected human figures on the beach. First, they thought it was the rescue team, but after looking through the binoculars they discovered that they were men of dark complexion, naked and armed, who proceeded to make wooden boats, apparently with the unfriendly intention of boarding the ship. Luckily for the sailors, the Sentileneses did not find a way to climb the hull and remained safe until a helicopter rescued them.
Curiously, the later encounters with the people from Sentilenes showed that after the arrival of the Primrose their weapons gave a great leap of quality, going from being stone to metal. That ship – which is still stranded today and can be seen on Google Maps – made that mini-civilization take the leap from the stone age to the iron age.
From the First Peaceful Contact in 1991 to the 2004 Tsunami
The first peaceful contact between civilization did not occur until 1991, when on January 4 the Indian anthropologist Triloknath Pandit managed to exchange certain gifts, mainly fruit. Since then and until 1997 there were several more contacts. That year, the Indian government changed its policy after the pressure exerted by several NGOs after the Jawara – a tribe inhabiting islands near the Sentinel of the north – were on the verge of extinction due to tourism and “human safaris”.
On the night of December 26, 2004, a tsunami struck the Indian Ocean causing 280,000 victims along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. In total chaos, the Indian government did not remember sending aid to the island until three days after the disaster. It was a helicopter in charge of checking the status of the sentileses. They could not land arrows, stones and spears. The inhabitants seemed fine.
This is especially surprising considering that the earthquake affected the island dramatically, raising it about two meters and exposing the reef that has since been dry land. In several places of the island, almost one kilometre of the surface was gained. The fishing zones were affected, but they seem to have adapted.
Prohibition To Travel to the Island and Exclusion Zone
On January 26, 2006, two Indian fishermen – Sunder Raj, 48, and Pandit Tiwari, 52 – came too close to the island when they tried to catch crabs and died at the hands of the sentileses. From that moment, the government decided to ban all trips to the island and a 3-mile exclusion zone has been imposed around the island. No action will be taken against the Islanders if they kill anyone who approaches beyond those limits.
The last picture of the Sentileses was taken in 2005 by Christian Caron :
Source: El Espanol