North Sentinel Island- History, people, tribe

If you visit the Bay of Bengal, you’ll find one of the most mysterious places on the planet, the North Sentinel Island & it won’t be an easy journey!

First of all, what is the North Sentinel Island?

North Sentinel Island is one of the Andaman Islands, an archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. Fact, an archipelago is an aerial set or chain of islands scattered all over a lake, river or ocean. Back to the topic, this Island is home to the Sentinelese, an indigenous tribe in voluntary isolation who have been forcibly defending their protected isolation from the rest of the world.

The island actually belongs to the South Andaman administrative district, & which is a part of the Indian union territory of Andaman & Nicobar Island. The island is an isolated & protected area under India. In the year 2018, the Government of India excluded North Sentinel Island, along with 29 other Islands from the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime in order to boost tourism. But, in November 2018, the government’s home ministry stated that the prohibition was relaxed to visit the North Sentinel Island, only in order to allow researchers and anthropologists, with pre-approved clearance.

North Sentinel Island surrounding

There are coral reefs surrounding the North Sentinel, but this Island lacks natural harbours. All of the Island, except the shore, is covered in dense forest. There’s a cramped white-sand beach circling the island, the ground rises 20 metres (66 ft) behind that. The reefs extend revolving the island to between 0.93 and 1.5 km (0.5–0.8 NMI) from the beach.

The Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004, made the tectonic plate under the island tilt, & lifted it by one to two metres (3 to 7 ft). It made the large tracts of the surrounding coral reefs get exposed and become permanently shallow lagoons, extending the island’s boundaries, by as much as one kilometre (3,300 ft), on the west and south sides.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Act of 1956 intercepts travel & tourism to the island. It prohibits any sort of approach or interaction closer than 9.26 kilometres from the Island, it’s to prevent the resident tribespeople from contracting diseases to which they don’t have any sort of immunity.

So, basically, North Sentinel Island is just one of the many islands in the Indian Ocean. It’s not very large, it spreads for only about 60 square kilometres. But, as I’ve stated, it’s completely closed off to the rest of the world. No one, & by that, I mean no one can approach the Island, not even scientists or tourists.

But why is this particular place so infamous?

Just because this Island is covered with dense forest, this greenery is not the cause of its secrecy at all. It’s not because it features poisonous spiders or snakes, neither because of an ancient curse.

Interestingly, it’s home to the most unusual people on earth, the Sentinelese. Yes, the people of the North Sentinel Island are known as the Sentinelese.

Do you know how old is the tribe?

They have been existing for about 60,000 years now.

Since it’s impossible to directly reach out to the Island, there’s no written record or count of the residents. According to the assumptions, there are now living anywhere between 15-400 people on the island of North Sentinel.

You must be wondering about the people now!

The Sentinelese have not been attached to the rest of the world since the prior of time & therefore, they’re not developed & modern as we are. Yes, Sentinelese are the people who don’t know what Netflix or Instagram is, well actually, they have no idea or concept of a phone… or any other modern gadget! Their lifestyle is nothing like ours.

More about the people

Well, we’ve all read about cavemen in our textbooks, if you look closely, it’ll seem like the Sentinelese are still stuck in that age. They’re very, very aggressive & defensive in nature & that’s exactly why it has been nearly impossible to have healthy contact with the North Sentinel Island, well, we’ll dig into that later.

The great scientists, however, have been able to have somewhat of a close look at the people of the North Sentinel Island, let’s look into the information that we’ve come across. The Sentinelese have dark shiny skin, very strong vivid muscles & sharp & strong teeth. They’re not very tall, 5’5 on average, most likely as a result of Island dwarfism. Just for your information, Island dwarfism is phyletic dwarfism that occurs when a population’s range is limited to a comparatively small environment, primarily islands.

A surprising fact is that they do not practice agriculture, even though they can make boats. To survive, they most likely use bows, arrows or spades to hunt land animals & they use their hands to gather seafood. Basically, the Sentinelese are hunter-gatherers. Even in the year 2021, they don’t know how to make fire! But they do use it if it’s occurred by natural means, for instance, a lightning strike! We can assume that the residents of the North Sentinel Island do not know how to read or write at all but yes, they do speak & interact with each other in an unknown & strange language. The Sentinelese live in tiny, temporary huts & they do not use clothes mostly except some leaves, leaving them mostly bare.

The Island itself still remains miraculous. The Indian Ocean earthquake which took place in the year 2004, made almost 200,000 people of the adjusting areas face death, but surprisingly, the Island of North Sentinel remained perfectly fine & unharmed. How? It’s still a mystery.

A helicopter was sent to check on the residents but the Sentinelese met it with spades & arrows, signifying that they were not only fine but also capable of protecting themselves.

The Island is indeed protected by the Indian Navy, as the tribespeople of the Island has not been attached with humans from other parts of the planet, they haven’t developed immunity to even mere diseases that we deal with, so contact with these tribespeople can end badly from both the sides.

But yes, human curiosity is not be incepted, therefore, there have been experiments that mostly can’t be called humane. “Why,” you ask? Well…

A British naval officer named Maurice Vidal Portman kidnapped 6 Sentinelese including 2 adults & 4 children, he brought them to the city where two of them couldn’t survive because of the unusual environment & the rest were left in dangerous conditions, he did return them to the Island.

Sentinilese tribe

The tribespeople, however, is very cautious, & by that, I mean, they’re ready to kill anyone who invades their space. There have been instances where —

  • In the year 2007, a group of Indian fishermen got too close to the Island even after being warned & as expected, they were killed by the residents of the Island. Even their bodies couldn’t be collected because the tribespeople was too furious.
  • In the year 2018, a Missionary named John Allen Chau paid some fishermen 30,000$ just to get him to the Island but unfortunately again, he was killed & his body couldn’t be collected, he may have been buried by the Sentinelese according to assumptions.

But yes, there was indeed a peaceful contact in 1991 but the contact with the residents of the North Sentinel Island eventually stopped after 1997 after the realization that the Sentinelese were better left alone. People who crossed the limits even after that met with expected consequences.

Right now with the striking covid situation, it’s said that approximately 10 of the great Andamanese tribespeople have been tested positive for Covid 19, increasing the fear of the fact that the Sentinelese may also be infected… calling in great danger. But we can only hope for the best & try to keep them isolated & safe as much as possible. The Indian authority is surely putting more strict restrictions & boundaries to protect them. We, as responsible Indian citizens, should always keep that in account & mind their space while keeping the North Sentinel Island thriving.



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