The tribe that knows nothing of the modern world

by Shirley Williams
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Have you ever just wanted to get away from the modern world? To live on your own or with your family away from the stresses and anxiety that the modern world brings? Maybe you have watched the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks and thought that it looked like a pretty nice trip away from civilization. If this sounds like you then you may have something in common with the people who call a very small island located in the Indian Ocean their home. These people are the Sentinelese and they want nothing to do with you or any other outsider.

North Sentinel Island is one of the Andaman Islands located beside the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman sea. The closest neighboring countries are Malaysia and Thailand. The island is technically owned by India and the Indian government has given the island a protected status meaning that no one is allowed within 10km. This is to protect the inhabitants from contracting an outside disease that could kill off the population. 

Throughout history, people have attempted to make contact with the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island and have been met with violent defiance. They have been given various gifts but it has not enticed the islanders to make friends and they appear to be better off. From what little we know about the population they appear to be surviving very well and need no help. In contrast, the indigenous populations of neighboring islands that have met with modern world influences are struggling to keep the indigenous population in high numbers.

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Based on historic interactions with the North Sentinelese people, they are right to fight people away. There have been approaches ever since Britain started to colonize Asia. In one case a shipwrecked on the island with almost 100 crew. They managed to defend themselves from the locals until a rescue boat came to help them. Sometime later an expedition was sent to the island and took six of the locals as prisoners. The two elder people captured died quickly so the other four were sent back with presents. It was fortunate that they did not have the same disease as they could have wiped out the entire nation.

More recently, two fishermen entered the reef of the island in 2006. They wanted to fish in the waters and were killed by the locals. The Indian government made no attempt to arrest the killers as they acknowledge the island as self-governing and will not convict them of any crimes. In 2018 one man who believed he was on a mission from God tried to enter the island.

The man was John Allen Chau and he was raised an evangelical in America. He believed that the Sentinel Island marked the last stronghold of the devil and was adamant that he would overcome this evil. He made three attempts to land on the island and was met with anger each time. On the third time, he was killed. Whatever your religious views of this attempt, Chau broke the law by entering the island and could have introduced dangerous viruses that may have threatened the entire population. What he did was wrong.

While there are many tribes around the world that are described as separate to the outside world, the North Sentinel Islands are one place where they are truly independent. The language they speak is not even close to the neighboring islands as they have not made contact with anyone. While it would be fascinating to hear from these people and understand what they think of the world, the reality is that they are better off and happier being left alone.

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