Located in the Bay of Bengal, off the northwest coast of Indonesia, is a small series of islands surrounded by crystal-clear water. Humans have been exploring the Indian archipelago, which consists of 572 islands, for ages. North Sentinel Island is still shrouded in mystery, even though several surrounding islands are popular tourist destinations.

Due to North Sentinel's remote location—far from major shipping lanes and encircled by a shallow reef with no natural harbors—its native Sentinelese population has remained primarily uncontacted for at least the past 60,000 years. They attribute this in part to the intense protection of their home and privacy and, in part, to the protective legislation imposed by the Indian government. South Asians and those living on other islands in the Andaman Sea avoid North Sentinel Island and its waters because they know that the Sentinelese people will not accept any attempts at contact.


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What To Know About North Sentinel Island

The Island of North Sentinel sits 59.6 kilometers north of South Sentinel Island and 36 kilometers west of the South Andaman town of Wandoor. The island is naturally positioned for isolation, surrounded by dangerous coral reefs, has no natural harbors, and is almost completely covered in a thick forest, all of which make travel difficult. The island is technically part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian union territory; however, its official designation places it in the South Andaman administrative district.

The Indian government respects the islanders' desire for autonomy and takes the role of a neutral spectator while dealing with the situation. Since Indian law forbids any kind of construction on the island, it now functions as a nature sanctuary. In 2018, the Indian government took 29 islands, including North Sentinel, out of the RAP regime to boost tourism to those destinations. In November of 2018, the government's home ministry announced that they would relax the prohibition to make it possible for academics and anthropologists to visit the Sentinel islands as long as they received prior consent.

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Moisture-loving broadleaf forests of the tropics and subtropics make up the bulk of the island's vegetation. During a trip to the island in 1880, Maurice Vidal Portman described a "park-like" jungle filled with dense groves of bullet wood trees and enormous, buttressed specimens of Malabar silk-cotton tree. Portman mentioned a "big heap" of pig skulls near a Sentinelese town, suggesting that Indian boar are standard on the island and serve as a significant source of sustenance for the locals.

The Mysterious Sentinelese People

Little is known about the Sentinelese because they have spent the last 60,000 years isolating themselves from the rest of the world. What little there is to know about them comes from viewing them from boats moored more than an arrow's distance from the shore and from the few brief periods when the Sentinelese have allowed the authorities to get close enough to hand over some coconuts.

They are so difficult to count that even estimating their population size is challenging. Anthropologists' population projections and data from a 2011 census suggest that there are probably somewhere between 80 and 150 people on the island; however, the number may range from 15 to 500. The Sentinelese have ties to the indigenous populations of the nearby Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India. The Onge and the Jarawa, two other Andaman communities, still don't speak a common language with them since they've been so isolated for so long.

To navigate the shallow, calm waters of the reef, they presumably construct small, narrow outrigger canoes and use long poles for propulsion. The Sentinelese use these canoes for fishing and crab harvesting. As for their diet, they are hunters and gatherers who, if they follow the same practices as other Andamanese peoples, will subsist mainly on the fruits and tubers native to the island, as well as on seabird and turtle eggs and small game such as pigs, birds, and rabbits. They are well-armed with bows and arrows, spears, and knives, and even explorers have learned to appreciate their skill with these weapons.

It is well known that the Sentinelese are ferocious warriors when protecting their island. Even though only a few individuals live on the heavily forested island, they have consistently displayed a hostile attitude toward any attempts at interaction from the outside world. The members of the Sentinelese tribe are the only ones who can adequately describe their profound contempt for the rest of civilization. Historians and anthropologists suspect this practice dates back to the 1880s when British colonists traveled to the island and abducted some of the natives.

Whether the Sentinelese fear the outside world or just desire to be left alone, it appears they will continue to live in seclusion. Despite this, they have garnered admiration and respect for their fight to live without intrusion from the outside world.