Most pieces of adventure-literature from the 19th century has recorded encounters with “savages” or barbaric tribes that various white protagonists have overcome with their gallantry (read balls) and guns.
Cut to this decade, we feel the world is a whole lot better thanks to technological retardations like Facebook.
However there are a few groups that nobody has managed to friend. I am talking about a stone-age tribe that is present India. Few people know that such tribes exist outside of the Amazon forests of South America. Well, this tribe in India lives in the Andamans and is the most isolated tribe of the world. Welcome to the Sentinelese tribe, my friend!
Situated in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman islands have been known to outsiders since ancient times. Early Arab and Persian documents report that they were inhabited by cannibals – an exaggeration that probably originates from the hostility these early travellers must have faced from the tribes.
A Penal Colony was started in the late 1700s on Great Andaman. With this came new people and new diseases which killed a lot of the original islanders. Though most tribes preferred isolation initially, they broke their isolation over time – the latest being the Jarawa, who established the first peaceful contact with the Indian government in 1997.
Since 1967, Indian authorities have tried to make peaceful contact with the Sentinelese under the auspices of anthropological research. These “contact expeditions” consisted of a series of visits in which gifts such as coconuts were left on the shores in an attempt to coax the Sentinelese out of their usual hostility to outsiders. All of these attempts were greeted with showers of arrows and stone.
In 2006, Sentinelese archers killed two fishermen who were fishing illegally within range of the island and drove the helicopter which was supposed to retrieve their bodies with a hail of arrows. To this date, their bodies remain unrecovered, although the downdraught from the helicopter’s rotors at the time exposed the two fishermen, who had been buried in shallow graves by the Sentinelese.
Most of what we know about them is from distant observation. They are classified as Negritos, a loosely connected group of peoples inhabiting isolated regions in South East Asia who exhibit physical characteristics more commonly found in Africans, such as a very dark skin tone and peppercorn hair.
The Sentinelese wear no clothes, but wear leaves, fiber strings or similar material as decorations. Headbands made from vines appear to be fashionable items among men. There are no signs of agriculture on the island. Although most of their tools and weapons are made from stone and animal bones, the tribe seems to make use of metal fragments that end up washed on their shore – this was found when expeditions were welcomed with weapons containing metal fragments.
Their culture is completely unknown. On March 29, 1970, a research party of Indian anthropologists, found themselves cornered on the reef flats between North Sentinel and Constance Island. An eyewitness recorded the following from his vantage point on a boat lying off the beach:
“Quite a few discarded their weapons and gestured to us to throw the fish. The women came out of the shade to watch our antics… a few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude… they all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease. At this moment, a strange thing happened — a woman paired off with a warrior and sat on the sand in a passionate embrace. This act was being repeated by other women, each claiming a warrior for herself, a sort of community mating, as it were. Thus did the militant group diminish. This continued for quite some time and when the tempo of this frenzied dance of desire abated, the couples retired into the shade of the jungle. However, some warriors were still on guard. We got close to the shore and threw some more fish which were immediately retrieved by a few youngsters. It was well past noon and we headed back to the ship…”
Since the Indian government doesn’t allow anyone to travel to these parts and has dropped all plans of contacting this tribe , they will probably remain the most isolated race of people in the world. Their future can only be predicted if they interact with outsiders. Inevitably, tourists will expose the tribe to diseases against which they will have no immunity. Reports suggest that these diseases will result in the annihilation of the tribe itself. One epidemic can lead to severe depression, dependency and in extreme cases, even suicide.