Sentinel Island: The Mysterious and Isolated Island from Rest of the World


How many of you remember The Skull Island from the movie King Kong. Do you believe there is an Island in real with a group of tribal people who has no contact with the outside world and kills the strangers who enters their island.

Yes it’s true.

FILE -In this Nov. 14, 2005 file photo, clouds hang over the North Sentinel Island, in India’s southeastern Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A rights group that works to protect tribal people has urged Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover the body of an American man who was thought to be killed by inhabitants of an island where outsiders are effectively forbidden by Indian law. (AP Photo/Gautam Singh, File) ASSOCIATED PRESS

North Sentinel Island is unlike any other place on Earth and represents one of the last totally unexplored places and least understood place on the planet. Home to a fiercely independent tribe who are most aggressive people.

It has been described as ‘the hardest place in the world to visit’, ‘the world’s most dangerous island’ and home to ‘the most isolated tribe in the world’.

Located within the Andaman Islands archipelago, in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar, is a small, picturesque tree shrouded speck of land just 23 sq. miles in area called North Sentinel Island.

 It’s a ways away from civilization and no one has been able to make contact with the native inhabitants. The island is one of the last remaining uncivilized places of the earth!

An indigenous tribe has lived on the Island with extremely limited contact with outsiders. Anyone who has attempted to explore the island has been attacked or outright killed.

The Sentinelese are estimated to be the descendants of some of the first early humans out of Africa, and are thought to have been here in North Sentinel Island for approximately the past 60,000 years.

North Sentinel is so dangerous for outsiders that India’s government has established a three-mile exclusion zone in an effort to prevent more violence.

The ‘Sentinelis’ have attacked nearly every outsider who has strayed into their territory.

North Sentinel Island got more attention after the murder of American missionary John Allen Chau on North Sentinel Island on 17th November 2018. Chau, 27, was shot with arrows on November 17 when he set foot on the island – part of the Indian-controlled Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal – to spread the teachings of Christianity.

John Allen Chau who was killed by the Sentinelis. Credits: JOHN ALLEN CHAU/FAIR USE

The island was first spotted in 1771 by surveyor John Ritchie, passing by aboard the British East India Company vessel the Diligent.

The first real contact with the island’s aggressive inhabitants by foreigners came over 100 years later, when in the summer of 1867 an Indian merchant vessel called the Nineveh found itself smashed and floundering upon one of the island’s many surrounding reefs, after which a reported 106 passengers and crew managed to make it to land. At first the island seemed to them to be uninhabited, and even though they were well acquainted with ominous stories from the people of the other Andaman islands that the natives of Sentinel Island were ferocious and to be avoided, nothing happened until the third day. On this day, the ragtag group of survivors was targeted by an onslaught of Sentinelese, who charged out from the dark jungle with bows and arrows blazing. The captain of the vessel would say of the frightening sight:

The savages were perfectly naked, with short hair and red painted noses, and were opening their mouths and making sounds like pa on ough; their arrows appeared to be tipped with iron.

The survivors were just barely able to fend off the ferocious attacking natives with stones and any weapons they could get their hands on until they were rescued by a Royal Navy ship. This incident generated quite a bit of interest at the time, with the idea of this mysterious and deadly exotic island and its inscrutable inhabitants capturing the public imagination, and in 1880 a British expedition was launched to try and make contact with the enigmatic tribe. The expedition was led by a Maurice Vidal Portman, and included well-armed men and an entourage of Andamanese guides, all of whom were extremely nervous about going anywhere near the island, armed or not.

In 1896, they stabbed to death an escaped Indian convict who washed up on their shore.

In March of 1970, Indian anthropologist Triloknath Pandit, who had made a few attempts to make peaceful contact with the Sentinelese, came face to face with the tribe, although it was perhaps not the way he had imagined it would go down.

In 1974, when a group of anthropologists and photographers visited the island in order to shoot a documentary called Man in Search of Man, along with heavily armed police escorts. The Sentinelese they greeted a film crew with a hail of arrows.

On August 2, 1981, the ship Primrose grounded on the North Sentinel Island reef. Within a short time, shipmates on the immobile vessel noticed that men on the shore were carrying spears and arrows and building boats on the beach. The captain radioed for a drop of weapons so that the ship could defend itself, but did not receive them. Luckily, heavy seas kept the islanders away long enough for the crew to be rescued by helicopter.

The wreck of the MV Primrose lies on coral close to a beach on North Sentinel Island in the Andamans. Sentinelese tribesmen’s weapons, once stone-tipped, now have iron tips — probably made from metal they salvaged from the wreck. Photo: Google Earth

It was not until 1991 that the anthropologist Triloknath Pandit, who had already spent decades trying to establish peaceful contact with the Sentinelese, was able to finally achieve his dream. On January 4, 1991, Pandit launched yet another expedition to this island, and was to make history by managing to make what has been called the “last first friendly encounter in history.” To the utter shock of everyone involved, who doubtlessly expected the natives to either hide or come out with arrows flying, as had been the case with every single other outsider who had ever approached, on this occasion the Sentinelese emerged from the forest without weapons and in a seemingly benevolent mood.

n 1991, T.N. Pandit, far left, presented gifts of coconuts to the Sentinelese people.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the Indian government sent a helicopter to check on the inhabitants on the island. While other nearby islands were heavily affected, the Sentinelese appeared to have been unharmed. The helicopter observed several clansmen shooting arrows and throwing stones at the hovering aircraft with the apparent intent of repelling it.

A Sentinelese tribesman aims his bow and arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter in this 2004 photo. Photo: AFP/Indian Coast Guard/Survival International

On January 26, 2006, two fishermen were killed by the tribe when their boat drifted near the island. An Indian coastguard helicopter attempted to retrieve the fishermen’s bodies, but was prevented from landing when it was greeted with a volley of arrows from the tribesmen.

On November 2018, American missionary John Allen Chau was killed.

The deep tree canopy makes it difficult to observe the Sentinelese from the air, but based on limited observational data it is assumed that they are hunter-gatherers; agriculture does not appear to be known to them.

Final Thoughts

It is truly fascinating that these people have managed to survive for so long confined to this small patch of land in the middle of the ocean that time has forgotten, likely living very much as they did many thousands of years ago and totally cut off from civilization and the world at large. For them this island is their world, their universe; the only reality they have ever known. In this sense it is easy to imagine why they might be have such a harsh, volatile resistance to outsiders. After all, for them it is perhaps a similar scenario to aliens suddenly coming down from the skies to make contact with us. How do you think we would realistically react? With open, welcoming arms, or fear and aggression? Additionally, what have we ever done for them other than give some useless “gifts,” and shoot at and kidnap their people? Perhaps they are smart to keep us away. For now it seems that the Sentinelese are safe, healthy, and just as resistant to any attempts to approach them as they always have been. There have been no more attempts to approach them and they have been left in peace to live in their remote seclusion as they always have, remaining an impenetrable mystery. How much longer that will last, however, remains unclear.