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Sentineleses del norte: the most isolated tribe in the world

Sentineleses del norte: the most isolated tribe in the world

May 5, 2024

We live in a modern and globalized society. Regardless of the opinions in this regard, it is undeniable that in the era of globalization contact with different cultures is something sought after constantly by a large majority of the population, sharing ideas, points of view and advances of different types.

But this contact is not sought by everyone. There are multiple groups and tribes that reject contact with other human beings external to them, protecting their way of life and customs. An example of this can be found in the sentineleses of the north, who live completely apart from the rest of the world .

One of the most remote and unknown tribes

Located in the Indian Ocean, between the islands belonging to the archipelago of the Andaman Islands, you can find an island of around 72 square kilometers called Sentinel del Norte . This zone belonging to India is the home of the Sentinelese, one of the few primitive tribes who have so far avoided contact with the rest of humanity, conserving their customs and traditions without coming into contact with civilization.

The knowledge about this tribe is very scarce, limited mainly to observations made by satellite imagery and aerial surveys and the few approaches to approach that have been made throughout history.

The sentineleses of the north are a tribe that has been characterized as an elusive people and actively avoids contact with both the outside world and other tribes. They are territorial and the attempt of contact by strangers have reacted either by avoiding them or by violence . Neither the structure nor the meaning of their language is known and, in fact, it is unknown even as they denominate themselves, being the name that has been given them a place name.

A way of life outside of civilization

The one that inhabits Sentinel del Norte is a tribe of pre-Neolithic characteristics, which is believed to be directly descended from the first Asians who came to the island around sixty thousand years ago. Its technological level corresponds to that of primitive tribes owning weapons made of wood and stone that they use in order to defend their territory and bring down prey, although occasionally they also use the iron that arrives from the remains and waste that reach them by sea. They do not seem to know the fire, and the aerial images obtained from the island do not reflect the existence of cattle areas or farmland.

It is a tribe of hunters and gatherers , and they have been seen hunting in the forests and fishing on the beaches of Sentinel del Norte. They build narrow canoes that serve them to navigate shallow waters. In spite of these simple living conditions, their general state of health seems to be good and stable, with a good proportion of children and pregnant women having been sighted. They live in large communal houses that can be seen from the air, although they also have small huts at specific points, such as on the beach.

As for the number of people who are part of the sentineleses tribe, although they have only been able to be partially censused by remote observation, it is estimated that the Sentinelese tribe is comprised of between thirty and several hundred, not being able to To grow too much due to the difficulties that cause having to hunt and collect to survive.

Their small number makes them capable of coping with their dietary needs. It is therefore a tribe of hunters and gatherers who it survives in a relatively small territory due to its low demographic expansion .

Contacts with sentineleses throughout history

The first known contacts with sentineleses of the north go back apparently to century XIII. Marco Polo has already written about this tribe saying that before the arrival of a foreigner the natives gave him death to later devour him. Probably this is the result of an exaggeration, given that in the few attempts of later contact no signs of cannibalistic behavior have been found among the inhabitants of this island, but it gives an idea that the reaction to the arrival of strangers was not positive.

In the 19th century, during the colonial era, a British officer surnamed Portman landed on the island in an attempt to contact the native population . This approach apparently had no result, since the expedition did not meet the natives, who hid in the jungle.

There were other expeditions with the same results, although in one of them two elders and two children were found who were kidnapped and forcibly transferred to civilization, dying of illness the two elders and the two children being returned to their village with numerous gifts. It is possible that this resulted in the transmission of Western diseases for which the immune system of the natives was not prepared, producing great losses that in the long run could lead to the existence of inquina towards the foreigners.

Another known attempt at contact occurred in 1978, when a team of anthropologists came to Sentinel del Norte to shoot the documentary Man in the search of man. The final result was that the natives attacked the film crew and they had to flee, wounding the director of the documentary with arrows.

Although in almost all the occasions the sentineleses reactions to the external contact have been of aggressive type, in some cases there have been more favorable results in which the inhabitants of the island have allowed a certain level of approach and even accepted gifts. In 1991 a first contact was reached in which the natives came to approach unarmed to accept gifts, but after a short period of time and for reasons that have not been known, sentineleses ended up rejecting the contact again.

After several years of not getting a successful approach and sentineleses attack those who came to their island, they ended up suspending attempts to approach . This was also helped by the fact that similar programs with other tribes of the archipelago ended up paying off with devastating consequences for the natives, with the degradation of the habitat and the death of a large part of their populations due to diseases.

The most recent contacts

In 2004 an earthquake and subsequent tsunami shook and devastated much of the island of Northern Sentinel. The authorities decided to send helicopters to check if the tribe had survived, finding that at least a certain amount had been achieved; some of the natives appeared pointing with bow and arrows at the aircraft.

More recently, in 2006 Two poachers ignored the ban on docking on the island's reefs . The search helicopters found the boat on the shore of the island and the bodies half buried in the sand, unable to recover due to the hostile attitude of the natives before the approach of the aircraft.

The importance of its isolation: protective measures

While knowledge about the existence and culture of the Northern Sentinel tribe is very scarce and could help the understanding of the evolution of human societies, the fact that they do not maintain contact with other human groups it avoids so much that they are assimilated by other cultures like that they die due to the own contact . And it is necessary to bear in mind that, being a tribe that has remained and survived separated from the rest of humanity, their immune systems could suffer from contact with other cultures because they have not acquired the necessary defenses to fight diseases that for us they only pose a nuisance or are easily curable.

It is for this reason and for respecting both the existence and the desire of a community to remain isolated that contact with the island of Sentinel is currently under protection, having established the Indian government an exclusion zone (ie, in which access is prohibited) of five miles around the island and pledging not to interfere in the lives of the natives.

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Bibliographic references:

  • Goodheart, A. (2000). The Last Island of the Savages. The American Scholar 69 (4): 13-44.
  • Grig, S. (2013). The Sentineleses: the most isolated tribe in the world ?. Survival International. Bulletin 194.

North Sentinel Island Untouched For 55,000 Years (May 2024).

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