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 North Sentinel Island

by John Doe
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North Sentinel Island

The death of an American tourist on North Sentinel Island drew international attention. North Sentinel is a tiny island off the major shipping routes. A shallow reef surrounds it with no natural ports due to Indian government rules and the zealous defense of their home and isolation. Over the previous 200 years, foreigners have visited the island multiple times, with disastrous results for both sides.


North Sentinel Island’s population is 80-150 persons; however, it may be 500 or 15. Others in India’s Bay of Bengal’s the Andaman Islands do not comprehend Sentinelese. Many shelters faced each other, each with a meticulously kept fire outside. They eat wild fruits and tubers, seagull and turtle eggs, and small game such as wild pigs and birds.

They most likely use iron-tipped tools, and weapons washed up on Sentinelese beaches. The Sentinelese use iron adzes to make mesh baskets. Nighttime bonfires and singing were witnessed by salvage personnel in the mid-1990s. However, outside of North Sentinel Island, no one understands how to welcome or challenge the Sentinelese’s worldview and social status. They have demonstrated that they do not appreciate companionship.

Do you despise visitors?

An East India Company ship saw lights off Sentinel Island in 1771. The Sentinelese were not stopped for over a century until an Indian trade ship named the Nineveh came aground on the reef. Eighty-six visitors and 20 staff members visited the beach. Armed with bows and arrows, the Sentinelese thought the invaders had stayed three days too long. We only remember Nineveh’s side of the story regarding ancient history, but it’s fascinating to imagine what was going on in Sentinelese communities. A disagreement erupted on how to approach the newcomer. Is it feasible that the Sentinelese were unaware that the shipwreck victims had violated a rule or exceeded a boundary?

Passengers and crew aboard the Nineveh retaliated with sticks and stones until rescued by a Royal Navy ship. While close, the British classified Sentinel Island as a colonial possession, which only the British cared about until 1880. Then there was Captain Maurice Vidal Portman, a young Royal Navy officer. In 1880, a large group of navy officials, Great Andaman prisoners, and Andamanese trackers landed on North Sentinel Island.

They discovered only abandoned settlements whose residents had evacuated to safer inland locations. They carried an old couple and four children to Port Blair, South Andaman Island’s colonial capital. Six Sentinelese who had been abducted died at Port Blair. Portman felt it would be a kind gesture to leave toys for ill children on North Sentinel’s beach. But we don’t know whether the children’s illness spread or what effect it had.

That didn’t make the Sentinelese warm to visitors. A prisoner escaped on an improvised raft in 1896. He exemplifies the phrase “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Then a colonial search and rescue team discovered his arrow-wounded and throat-slit bones. For a century, the British ignored the Sentinelese.

Make New Friends?

Trilok Nath Pandit conducted an anthropological excursion to North Sentinel Island a century after the Nineveh sank. They only discovered abandoned houses. The people fled so quickly that their homes remained burning. Fabric, sweets, and buckets were among their offerings. Despite the objections of anthropologists, Pandit’s navy officers and Indian police officials seized Sentinelese bows, arrows, baskets, and other artifacts. It has been in legal ambiguity since India’s independence in 1947. A stone inscription, unveiled in 1970, claimed the island for India. There is no Sentinelese reaction.

Pandit and his friends continued attempting to establish touch with their dinghy, dropping out presents and departing. Live pigs and plastic toys were speared and buried in the sand by the Sentinelese. They seemed to like the uncommon island coconuts and stainless steel cookware. Bags of them arrived, typically with bows and arrows. After 25 years apart, Pandit believed the tourists were gaining confidence. They were uncommon until 1981. In 1974, A National Geographic film team photographed it. In 1975, the Sentinelese cautioned exiled Belgian King Leopold III to stay away from the island. The king was ecstatic.

The Primrose, like the Ninevah, went aground in 1981. Visitors to the island claim that the Sentinelese used metal to make tools and weapons from the ship. Artists accustomed to seeing beached metal bits may have been taken aback by the sight of a whole boat. In 2007, Pandit and his colleagues visited the island every two months.

Pandit’s efforts paid off a decade later. In early 1991, a group of islanders came on the shore, armed only with woven baskets and adzes (although later encounters proved how well those adzes could be used in self-defense). They got closer to strangers. A dozen Sentinelese waited on the coast when the anthropologists arrived later that day. A guy drew his bow and aimed it towards spectators. The answer is to bury your archery in the sand.

He wasn’t a Sentinelese at all. A Sentinelese man instructed Pandit to scare the visitors away with his knife. “If we invaded their domain without permission, they would turn away and defecate on their backsides. That was a sly remark. They’d use arrows if we didn’t stop, “Pandit explains. The Sentinelese never returned presents or invitations to remain or go inland, and neither side learned to speak authentically. On the beach, armed men met anthropologists.

Anthropology was prohibited in India in 1996. Soon after the 2004 tsunami, Indian Coast Guard helicopters discovered the Sentinelese alive but unimpressed – and unafraid to assault them with bows and arrows. A Sentinelese crab harvesting boat washed up on a beach in 2006, killing and burying both crews.

So, what happens now?

Early this month, a trespasser on their island, John Allen Chau, stood on the beach singing hymns. They chased him once again, but this time he was murdered. They buried his bones like they had done with the two Indian anglers in 2006. The Indian authorities called off the hunt for Chau’s corpse, citing the safety of the searchers and Sentinelese. The tragedy has raised debate regarding the preservation of Sentinelese villages. Pandit advises against interfering. According to the retired anthropologist, the Sentinelese have apparent that they desire to be alone? The island is visited by census takers from India.

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