NORTH SENTINEL: ISOLATED AND DEADLY

Remko Tanis • 22 November 2018

It’s 2018 and this happened: a zealous christian, western missionary and adventurer was killed with bow and arrow by a tribe on a remote island in the Bay of Bengal.

John Allen Chau, an American thought to be in his late 20s, took a kayak to the island of North Sentinel . The speck of land is home to around fifty members of a highly isolated tribe, who have killed those who simply set foot on shore. Including, now, John Allen Chau.

 

The Indian government prohibits interaction from outsiders with the tribe. The authorities already in 2005 indicated they have ‘no intention to interfere with the lifestyle or habitat of the Sentinelese and are not interested in pursuing any further contact with them or enforcing law on the island’.

So it’s unlikely any of the tribe’s people will be prosecuted for the American’s death.

I had never heard of North Sentinel before, nor of the Sentinelese people. I just had to teach the dictionary on my MacBook the word ‘Sentinelese’ as well.

North Sentinel measures about seven by eight kilometers and is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The closest land is South Andaman Island, 36 kilometeres to the east.

 A file photo of Sentinelese people trying to fend off intruders. Business Insider put real time market indexes right next to the image. Somehow the contrast between the two couldn’t be bigger. Source:  Business Insider DE

A file photo of Sentinelese people trying to fend off intruders. Business Insider put real time market indexes right next to the image. Somehow the contrast between the two couldn’t be bigger. Source: Business Insider DE

Because of its remoteness, there is no certainty about how many people really live on the island. Estimates range from 50 to 400.

I can’t help but feel a bit stupefied by the way people have tried to make contact with the Sentinelese over the years.

Of course there’s your European naval officer who thought he could just sail up to the island with guns out, and kidnap a man, a woman and two children from the island, in 1880. After the man and woman died in his captivity, the naval officer thought all would be well if he just gave the kids some gifts and then send them on their merry way back to the island. To no one’s surprise, his actions didn’t endear the Sentinelese to intruders.

Then there’s the National Geographic film crew, also accompanied by armed guard, which in 1974 thought it would be easy to seduce the Sentinelese into contact by bringing gifts like a toy plastic car, aluminum cookware and a live pig. The crew was attacked with rounds of arrows and had to flee.

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Google Maps has this to say on how to get to North Sentinel:

Sorry, we could not calculate directions from "Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India" to "North Sentinel Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands"

Just as well, for everyone involved.