The advancement of communication technologies and mass media including the internet over the last five decades, has been effective in making our world a smaller place.
In addition to this, mass transit systems have grown to such an extent that even traveling from say, Nigeria to British Virgin Islands is possibly in a day and with just two flight changes. However, it is remarkable how this change, which one could arguably label as development hasn’t affected the lives of certain indigenous people who continue to lead simple lives; hunting, grazing and eating raw food.
Counted amongst the few ‘Lost Tribes’ left in this world are the Sentinelese people of the Andamans. Described as ‘The most isolated people in the world,’ the Sentinels inhabit North Sentinel Island, part of the Great Andaman archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. The Sentinelese people are believed to be direct descendants of the first humans who lived in Africa, and have lived on the small forested Island for over 60,000 years.
Infact, it is widely believed that the Sentinelese haven’t discovered fire yet, nor do they have any knowledge about agriculture. What we do know through observation is that they live on eating marine animals, lizards and coconuts which they break open with their sharp teeth.
But the main reason, why so little is known of these people including their population size, is their hostility towards any external contact. Attempts to reach out to these people have largely proven to be futile, as most people who have gone to the island have either returned injured or not returned at all. The Indian Government however, did manage to include them for the 2001 census, albeit from afar. It estimated their total number to be 39, which is however believed to be inaccurate. The main reason why it’s impossible to accurately predict their numbers is because many of them are believed to be in hiding.
What’s interesting to know though is that, India has officially declared the Sentinelese people as a Scheduled Tribe! However, it is not clear if the Sentinelese know what India is or even the fact that we call them as The Sentinelese.
Most of what we know about them is through failed scientific expeditions throughout the late 21st century which aimed at integrating the tribe into modern society. In one such expedition in the 1990s the Sentinelese for the first time were found to be non-hostile to outside presence on their island. But, much of this was reversed in 2006, when two fishermen who accidentally reached the island were killed. Even the coast guard helicopter which had gone there to retrieve their bodies was shot at it with arrows.
Visuals shot from Helicopters show that the tribe survived the 2004 Tsunami, and rejected attempts for any aid in the form of food supplies.
The Indian government has now declared North Sentinel Island a ‘no go zone.’
This might be for the best, given what’s happened to the other tribes in the Andaman Islands since contact. The Jarawans, first contacted in 1997, lost 10 percent of their population to measles in the first two years of exposure, suffering endemic disease, dislocation, and sexual abuse by settlers and police ever since. It is quite possible that the Sentinelese too have no immunity from common diseases, considering that they have been isolated from other humans for 60,000 years.
Thus, for their survival it would be best if the Sentinelese remain in isolation, and this is something that they perhaps do understand.