North Sentinel: The island where no-one can enter

In recent days the whole world has turned its attention to the North Sentinel Island and its inhabitants, due to the death of an American missionary who was attacked while trying to enter illegally.

North Sentinel is an island in the Andaman Archipelago, located in the Bay of Bengal, east of India and west of Myanmar.

Despite being located only 40 kilometers (24.85 mi) from South Andaman, an island with several towns and tourist places, North Sentinel has remained intact and isolated from the modern world.

The tribe that inhabits it, sentinelese, belongs to the indigenous ethnic groups of Andamanese. It is believed that the inhabitants arrived 60,000 years ago from Africa and since then they lived in Sentinel without maintaining contact with the rest of society.

Location of North Sentinel in southeastern Asia
North Sentinel is an island of the Andaman Archipielago in southeastern Asia.
North Sentinel Island Aerial image
The island has an exuberant jungle, white beaches and coral reefs in the waters that surround it.

Sentineleses maintain a primitive culture, similar to the stone age, do not dominate the fire and feed on fruits and animals that inhabit the island or the sea.

It is believed that some members may have died during the December 2004 tsunami that severely hit the island. The current number of inhabitants is around 150 individuals.

The few attempts at contact with the outside world have been unsuccessful and several times ended in attacks with arrows on strangers.

In the 13th century Marco Polo already described them as hostile. In 2006, the islanders killed with arrows two fishermen who ran aground on the island, and a few days ago they killed John Allen Chau, a young American who tried to enter the island with the aim of evangelizing them.

In order to protect sentinelese people from damage or illnesses from the outside world that could lead them to extinction, the government of India decided not to intervene in any way on the island, and even established a perimeter of 3 nautical miles (5.5 kilometers), that no person can cross.

First contact of Pandit with Sentinelese people
Triloknath Pandit (left), giving gift coconuts to sentinelese people in the only successful contact with the islanders.

The 84-year-old Indian anthropologist Triloknath Pandit is one of the lucky few who managed to get in touch with the tribe and survive to tell the tale.

His first contact attempt dates back to 1967, but it was not until 1991 that he managed to approach the island successfully.

At that moment, for some unknown reason, they accepted Pandit and his team to come to the beach with their boats. These gave them coconuts and other gifts that sentinelese received happy, but could not maintain dialogue for not understanding their language. But the peace did not last long, the islanders never allowed them to set foot on solid ground and after a few moments they became threatening.

“One young Sentinel boy made a funny face, took his knife and signalled to me that he would cut off my head. I immediately called for the boat and made a quick retreat,” said the anthropologist to the BBC, adding: “The gesture of the boy is significant. He made it clear I was not welcome.”

Subsequently the government of India established a ban on crossing the stipulated perimeter of 5 miles and also try to deliver gifts or film sentinelese.

Pandit maintains that they are not hostile. They are happy on their island and defend themselves when someone invades their space.

“That is the incorrect way to look at it. We are the aggressors here,” he told the Indian Express. “We are the ones trying to enter their territory”…”We should respect their wish to be left alone.”, said Pandit.


Source: Triloknath Pandit, Indian Express, NASA, BBC, Christian Caron.
Iani Nikolov
News Reporter

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