Sentinel Island: A Zero Contact World

No power, no fire, no agriculture, no visitors, and no connection to the rest of the world. Welcome to Sentinel Island.

One of the world's last uncontacted tribes. © Gleison Miranda/FUNAI/www.uncontactedtribes.org

 

Situated in the Bay of Bengal is a dense tropical island inhabited by the Sentinel people. This indigenous community has lived a hunting and gathering lifestyle for thousands of centuries. Because there is no known evidence of discovering fire or agriculture, this Stone Age tribe has survived solely on raw meat, fish, and wild vegetation for over 60,000 years.

Although many censuses have been attempted, the exact amount of inhabitants remains unknown. Census officials from India learned that they had to observe from afar, to preserve their safety. The number is estimated to be anywhere from 50 people, to over 500 people. The problem is they are just too hostile for close-proximity engagement. It continues to be much of a culture shock to them when they see boats and planes pass. They shoot arrows and throw objects at them in terror.

 

The Islanders have managed to create tools and weapons, even without the help of fire. They learned how to Coldsmith using different materials they have salvaged from nearby shipwrecks and natural deposits. This process is done by using rocks to shape knives and spears. But even with their ability to do so without fire, it is still so much harder than one could imagine. The islanders use these tools to their advantage when unwanted visitors show up.

In 2006, two Indian men were out in the waters fishing illegally for crabs when they saw North Sentinel Island in the distance. They decided to drop anchor so they can sleep the night but slowly drifted towards the island when their anchors malfunctioned. During the evening, they were killed in their sleep and their ship stripped of anything they could find.

Although the fishermen happened to stumble across the island by accident, we, the rest of the world, have attempted to make contact with them several times before. The tribe's language has not been detected yet, so people have had to be creative in the past when it comes to communication.

In 1880, an armed British survey ship attempted to visit the newly discovered island. They planned to seize someone from the tribe and treat them well. After sending them back to the isle, they hoped to have gained their trust so they can see that we come in peace. When the British finally attempted the plan, the prisoners became very ill from their lack of immunity to mainland diseases. They were shortly sent back to the island.

Other attempts have been conducted like dropping gifts and into the water as close to the island as they can get, so they’d wash up onto shore for the natives. They sent tools, toys, live animals, and coconuts. The tribe seems to value coconuts heavily, being that they all ran straight for them.

Living in such an urbanized world, how does this one tribe continue to exist? Being that modern technology is so far ahead of their capabilities, just exposing an islander to a place like Times Square, for example, would send them into an immediate culture shock.