The Sentinelese: Living In Isolation // Island Traveler Magazine

Fall 2013 // (1 of 2) articles for Island Traveler* //

*Island Traveler is a magazine distributed to a largely Chinese audience on flights from Mainland China to Saipan. Article text below image //



The Sentinelese: Living in Isolation

North Sentinel Island, South Andaman



Some countries just don’t want to be involved – Switzerland is notoriously neutral, and Japan isolated itself for the better part of the 16th and 17th centuries. North Sentinel Island, however, is taking things to a whole other level, with 60,000 years of keeping to themselves.

Historians and archaeologists deem that the residents of the island, named the Sentinelese, have inhabited the island since the last ice age. Such isolated groups are known in the field as “uncontacted people”, sometimes also referred to as “isolated people” or a “lost tribe”. The inhabitants of North Sentinel Island have lived without significant contact from globalized civilization since, almost literally, the beginning of man.

The island itself is part of the Andaman archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. A oddly square-shaped island 72 kilometers square, it is roughly the size of Manhattan with dense jungle in place of urban development. The 2004 quake shifted the tectonic plates under the island, effectively pushing the entire island up 1-2 meters and expanding its area quite significantly. Coral reef and what were for centuries before shallow waters were turned into dry land and sand bank. Scientists postulate that the Sentinelese were able to sense the disaster and made it to higher ground before the tsunami struck, suffering little to no loss. In fact, in the weeks that followed, inhabitants still resisted outside contact by firing arrows at helicopter aid.

This hostile manner is quite typical, with bow and arrows shot towards encroaching aircrafts and small troops of what may be assumed to be warriors running down the island shores with crude weapons as soon as boats near. As a result the island continues to be a difficult subject for scholars and scientists, and little is known about the native culture. Some estimate the island population to be around 50, others as many as 400. The Sentinelese speak their own, unclassified language which is drastically different than neighboring islands, supporting assumptions they have been isolated for quite some time. The islanders maintains a hunter-gather society, living in huts and in small groups, presumed to be families. There have been no evidence of cultivating an agriculture or irrigation system, individuals are very rarely clothed, and the society has no methods of producing fire. Raw minerals are rare on the island, and thus metalwork and modern weaponry have not been established. The North Sentinel Island inhabitants are truly a rare civilization providing a glimpse back into the past – and will probably stay that way for the rest of time.


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