Viewed from above, it is an idyllic island with beautiful beaches and a dense forest, but try to get near the shore and you might not live to tell how it looks like from up close.
Outsiders, be they tourists, fishermen or India’s coast guard, who venture too close to North Sentinel Island, are certain to be attacked by the fearsome members of a mysterious tribe who not only have rejected modern civilization, but are refusing to have any contact with the outside world.
When the islanders do interact with outsiders, their communication usually takes the shape of projectiles. In 2006, the indigenous Sentinelese tribe killed two men they caught fishing illegally in their waters and have been caught on camera firing arrows and rocks at low-flying aircraft. (Scroll down for the video.)
1. Sentinelese tribesmen, holding javelins, gather on the shore of North Sentinel Island, located in the Bay of Bengal.
Situated in the Bay of Bengal, the Manhattan-sized North Sentinel Island, which is part of the Andaman Islands, nominally belongs to India, however it remains a mystery, despite being populated as early as 60,000 years ago.
As the locals tolerate no outsiders within an arrow shot’s distance, precious little is known about the Sentinelese people, their language and rituals or about the island they call home.
As it is too dangerous to approach the islanders, they are rarely photographed up close and are almost never seen on video. Most of the images and video clips that do exist are of low quality (see the footage below).
There are also conflicting reports about the size of the tribe’s population, with most estimates placing it in the range of a few dozen to a few hundred.
2. Following the 2004 tsunami, a member of the Sentinelese tribe was photographed firing an arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter.
3. This satellite image taken by NASA shows the untouched North Sentinel Island, which is about the size of Manhattan.
It is also unclear what impact the devastating 2004 tsunami had on the island’s population, though the tribe has clearly managed to avoid being wiped out.
In the wake of the disaster, one tribe member was pictured firing an arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter flying overhead to inspect the damage.
Often called a “Stone Age tribe”, the Sentinelese may well be the most isolated tribe in the world, with the Indian government deciding not to meddle in their affairs.
The government did make several failed attempts to establish contact, but eventually abandoned all efforts and allows the tribe to live however it chooses.
4. The tribesmen are rarely photographed or recorded on video — the only existing images or video clips tend to be of poor quality.
5. To protect the Sentinelese people — and outsiders — the Indian government has established a three-mile exclusion zone around the island.
In fact, the Indian authorities have gone as far as making it a crime to attempt to make contact with the islanders. It is illegal to go within three miles of Sentinel Island.
The Sentinelese have been surviving off the land and hunting sea creatures, even though the waters around the island seem to be under threat by illegal fishermen.
According to Survival International, which advocates for tribal peoples’ rights, fishermen are targeting the island, with seven men being arrested by the Indian Coast Guard.
One of the arrested fishermen allegedly set foot on the island in close proximity to tribesmen, but managed to get away unscathed.
6. Survival International said the islanders are “extremely healthy, alert and thriving”, but their fishing waters are being threatened.
7. This aerial image shows the dense tree canopy on the island, which has remained untouched by modern civilization for millennia.
Survival International describes the locals as “the most vulnerable society on the planet”, because they are unlikely to have developed immunity against common diseases such as flu and measles.
According to the organization, the chances of the islanders being wiped out by a sudden epidemic are very high.
Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said in a statement:
The Great Andamanese tribes of India’s Andaman Islands were decimated by disease when the British colonized the islands in the 1800s.
The most recent to be pushed into extinction was the Bo tribe, whose last member died only four years ago. The only way the Andamanese authorities can prevent the annihilation of another tribe is to ensure North Sentinel Island is protected from outsiders.
8. This aerial image from Google Maps shows a shipwreck off the coast. Clashes with salvagers have left several tribesmen dead.
Survival International says that the islanders are “extremely healthy, alert and thriving”, despite the threats from the outside world and their “old world” way of life.
The locals’ hostility toward outsiders can be at least partially attributed to past conflicts. Survival International say that “the outside world has brought them little but violence and contempt”.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s several tribesmen were allegedly killed in battles with armed salvagers who invaded the island to recover iron and other goods from a shipwreck.
9. Sentinelese tribesmen ward off the Indian coast guard in 1990.
Source: Survival International.
Share this story with your friends and your thoughts in the comments below. Please retweet it to your Twitter followers — they would want to read that, too.