This is the first in a new series of Blog Articles which I have been researching for a few weeks. The themes are the mainly unsolved mysteries of people, places and events in history.
Over the years we have become used to hearing about “lost tribes” in the Amazon Jungle. They have been able to prosper in their environment for hundreds if not thousands of years. Unfortunately, civilisation in the form of cutting down the forest, both legally and illegally, have in many cases, made their present lifestyle to become untenable. But there is still somewhere where civilisation has only scratched at the surface and then many of those that did the scratchings have paid for it with their lives.
The place I am referring to is the island of North Sentinel. It is part of the Andaman Islands within the Bay of Bengal. Therefore, it comes under the influence of India. And this influence includes protection of the island and the people who live on it. This protection means that no one is allowed to visit the island or sail within five nautical miles of it and that has resulted in it remaining a mystery to the rest of the world.
The island is small, only five miles long and wide. But it does have around twenty miles of white sandy shores and a coral reef circling it. The interior consists of dense tropical forests. The tribe of people living there are known as the Sentinelese and contact with them has, over the years, been both sparse and dangerous.
The first recorded encounter between the islanders and visitors in 1867, was not out of desire, but because a passenger vessel, the Nineveh, floundered on rocks close to the island. Twenty crew and eighty-six passengers made their way to the shore of the island. The survivors spent three days on the beach whilst the local islanders fired arrows at them. They were able to defend themselves until the appearance of a Royal Navy ship rescued them.
Thirteen years later, another Royal Navy ship arrived and a party of sailors went ashore. They found a village which had been deserted except for an elderly couple and four children. They had been too slow to escape the apparent invaders. All six were taken to the main island in the chain and the capital of Port Blair. And, as in the case of many such occurrences around the world, it was not too long before they all became very ill due to not having any immunity from the various illnesses of the other world. Unfortunately, the old couple died and it was decided that the children should be returned to the island. The outcome of this decision on the rest of the islanders is not known.
This incident did have an effect which has lasted to this day. No one is welcome to the island and those that have ignored this have either lost their lives or were lucky to have gotten away. One of the unlucky ones was an escaped prisoner from another island, whose raft came ashore there in 1896. Several days later he was found with many arrow wounds and his throat cut.
In the 1960s, an anthropologist visited there and once again, found the village deserted at short notice. He left gifts including live pigs but these were buried in the sand. He visited several times but when his approaches were answered by arrows, he left and was lucky to have kept his life.
The last recorded and illegal visit was in 2018 and from a young religious minister who went ashore with the help of some fishermen in order to spread the word of the Gospel. The fishermen found him on the shore the next day. He had been killed from arrow wounds. It was decided that no charges or investigations would be carried out.
So, what do we know of the islanders? Not much is the quick answer. It is believed they could have arrived from Africa about fifty thousand years ago. North Sentinel, being such a small island, raises the question of how many islanders live there? There have been many attempts at measuring this number and they range from thirty-two to five hundred. The generally accepted one is between fifty and one hundred. We believe they are expert fishermen, so that would explain one of their food sources and there have been sightings of them fishing from canoes.
So, what is the future of the island and its people? Considering the few attempts at contact have resulted in death on both sides, perhaps the kindest thing is to leave them alone.