Far to the east, far to the west, far to the north, far to the south, or right beneath your feet, dependent on where you are in the world, is the cryptic, mystifying, and shadowy woodland realm known as North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal. There, lives a primitive and native tribe of hunters and gatherers. These people have been titled with three different names—the North Sentinel Islanders, the Sentineli, and the Sentinelese. If your path ever leads to open waters and ocean tides, and you happen to traverse 1,700 kilometers off the eastern coast of India, keep your eyes peeled and your mind sharpened. For all we know, someone on the island could be reading this at this very moment, and thus is why the first sentence is phrased with ‘right beneath your feet.’ We know not whether they have means of communication with the outside world. It is improbable, but not impossible. We know not whether these people are growing or diminishing in number. What little we know is the geography of the island, the disregard for the outside world the people have, and their all-too-routine decisiveness over unwelcomed guests. The only possible way a people like this would consider welcoming you into their land would be to arrive as they are, with no clothing, no material possessions, and absolutely no aircraft or water transport, as has been seen a few times throughout history and in recent days. So, unless you plan to swim ashore from the nearest land, or plan to jump ship far enough out from the island that your transportation will not be seen, you will not be given a friendly welcome. In fact, you are likely to be shot dead with poisonous arrows. That is correct; the Sentineli take to bow and arrow, spear, and likely sword, rather than guns and bullets. If you were to swim ashore, there is a slim chance you are seen as a castaway in need of shelter, though it is far more likely they will kill you and bury your remains. No outsider who has gone ashore has ever left alive. All meet their end full of arrows, lost to the ages and never to be seen again.
Hundreds of questions emerge when researching the Sentineli. Most importantly, you might wonder, is how they managed to get on the island in the first place. The primal Sentineli people migrated from Africa to North Sentinel Island 60,000 years ago, and through the many generations since, their descendants live on. Here we are in the 2019th year of the Common Era. Backtrack 57,981 years Before the Common Era and that is roughly when the Sentineli established themselves. It is extraordinary that they have managed to survive for so long a time in such a place, shut away from the rest of the world.
Media would have you believe that this is a tribe still living in the ‘Stone Age,’ but this is no more than a nonsense. Yes, it is true they live in one of two forms of housing, as has been recorded by the naked eye of government operations. The first are large communal huts that house several numbers of families. They contain warm hearths and fortification, opposing the occasional unrelenting forces of nature. The second is a more open form of shelter that has roof like structures but no walls. They merely offer a place for a moment’s rest or the long sleep at night, as well as a place to store possessions like food, water, and arrows. It is true that the Sentineli adventure into the forest to hunt and gather each day and use the littoral waters to fish. What is not true is that they have not evolved in 60,000 years. Of course, they do not take lightly to buoys, other toy instruments, and the occasional live pig sent ashore by local governments as a peace offering. The Sentineli are known to spear any such ‘gifts’ and bury them in the sand. However, they are seemingly pleased with the metal and coconuts that wash ashore, and other recyclables that humans decide to pollute the ocean with. They are happy to play their part in saving endangered species. Something we might all learn from. The iron collected is used to whet their arrowheads and give them their form. There is no doubt they are incredibly careful when they pick and choose what to take and what to bury, as will soon be explained. Perhaps they detect the Trojan Horse at play countless times over, although they are unlikely to have read Homer. Whether it is anyone’s intention to bestow harm upon such a people is up for discussion across the internet. Some feel it is best to wipe them out, while others feel they are to be left in peace. They certainly wish for the latter.
If you have heard of this tribe in the past, you likely are aware of the incredible risk outsiders pose to them by even the slightest of interactions. A mass outbreak of disease could find way to their land and wipe them all out from existence in the matter of weeks or days. There is no sort of immunity against such pathogens. Even the slightest of ailments could cause a chain reaction, killing an immeasurable amount of people. Currently, media again has it that there could be anywhere from 15 to 500 people living there. If you believe that, you have not been paying attention. This is a people that were around 60,000 years ago. This is a people that live in a dwelling the size of Manhattan, whose population reaches nearly 1.7 million. To think that as little as 15 people live there and only as many as 500 is absurd. Even those who have made it ashore would not have known the truth of the matter, for the eye can only see as far the shore extends. The inner forests and secrets that lie within are not blueprinted. Again, those outsiders are dead anyway and would have no chance of sending messages to and from the island to make known the populous. Of course, the risk of giving birth is heightened without proper hospital procedures. Miscarriages and death for the women are more likely than birthing a healthy child, as is seen in periods like the medieval ages. And yet, it can be done.
Let us look at facts for a moment. Manhattan houses 1.7 million people in 22.82 square miles. Boston houses 685,000 people and is 89.63 square miles. You can see the numbers are not dependent upon the size of the land, but rather on a whole number of economic factors. In the case of our Sentineli, the only probable factors that determine their population are likely what good can come from birthing additional children and if the risk is too great for the women. All that being said, we cannot ever know if 15, 500, 10,000, or 1,000,000 people are living there. When special ops fly overhead, the Sentineli typically swarm the beach to loose a barrage of arrows upon the helicopters, which are always overwhelmed to the point that they have to turn back. Flying over the forested lands is a death wish, for we again do not know if there is an army of defensive tribal members awaiting another day’s archery practice.
Due to their seclusion, there is no way to ever know what language they speak. Are you starting to pick up on the hints? The term ‘Sentinelese’ can be used, at present, to describe their language. Whatever it is, they are in communication with one another. All living things are. Horses, whales, seagulls, tigers, humans—all beings communicate. Whether by spoken, written, or interpersonal communication, language is the most primitive trait that defines a people. If they could not, they would have all died out by now, likely by their own hand. If you cannot convey yourself, especially when endangered, you cannot survive, plain and simple. In the 19th century, the British tried to bring together the neighboring islanders, known as the Onges, and found that their language patterns were far from similar.
Sporadic visits have taken place throughout the course of time that has done harm to the Sentineli’s conviction of any and all outsiders. Let us examine the more recent occurrences. In 1880, an armed British expedition saw the capture of six Sentineli to study their way of life. All six were quickly faced with sickness. The two elderly captives died, soon thereafter, and the British decided to send the four children back to their island with presents as a peace offering. It is unknown whether these children spread their illness to the rest of their tribes. What is known is that the Sentineli were not left with warm feelings to any of the outside world thereafter.
In the year 1896, an escaped Indian lawbreaker washed up on their shore, causing the Sentineli to fill him with arrows and cut his throat; in 1974, Sentineli welcomed a film crew with a barrage of arrows; in 2004, a fully nude tribesman took aim at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter directed to check for signs of survival in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami; in 2006, the tribesmen killed two fishermen who unintentionally drifted along their waters. As an Indian Coast Guard helicopter came about to recover the bodies, it was met by the Sentineli, string hands pulled back and ready to loose. The Coast Guard failed.
Just this past November of 2018, an American Christian missionary named John Allen Chau attempted to enter the tribespeople’s island, only to be killed. His body has not been recovered. The fishermen who took Chau to close to the island, whereupon Chau approached the island on a kayak, said that the Sentineli dragged his body onto the beach. Chau wrote in his journal that the tribespeople shot through his bible with an arrow, giving rise to the fact that either they wanted nothing to do with Christian beliefs or Chau simply raised the bible to protect his body from an oncoming arrow.
The killing of invaders is for the Sentineli’s own survival and protection. History has been written, and with it, dispositions have taken form; humanities perpetual desire to discover the unknown has forced our own hand to play a role in the death of two Sentineli and likely many others, if those four children did indeed infect their fellow tribespeople.
So, all facts set in stone, the question then becomes this: should we leave the Sentineli to their way of life or force ourselves into their abode to find answers we so yearningly seek? If you thought the latter, think again. What harm did they ever do to you? This is an entire people we are talking about—an entire way of life. They have lived for 60,000 years and counting, wishing only to be left in harmony. To be quite honest, it is a rather attractive lifestyle they live—quietude, serenity, and solitude in an otherwise loud, chaotic, and materialistic world. Take some time to ponder what life would be like if you could drop everything in this life—all your worries dissolved—and live the rest of your days off a parcel of land. Everything would be, in a way, simpler. Sure, everywhere there is a people, there is an economic structure of some sort. Value must always be exchanged for value. The Sentineli have, undoubtedly, already established a fine set of rules of which all must follow. Where two or more people are congregated, order must follow. Where two people gather, disputes arise, and justice must be served. Tribespeople toil the land in the sense that they provide food for their families and materials for shelters. A normal day would look like this: rest, hunt, eat, build, share stories, rest, repeat.
The Utopian society is said not to exist. I say different. Though we all have our own views on what a perfect society would consist of, as you further your research on North Sentinel, you may find reason to agree. The overarching idea behind this island and the way of life is an eye-catching one. The violence and bloodshed that ensues, due to Sentineli wariness, is, by no means what makes it so. Rather, to be able to exist on this earth without the struggles faced in society today is what makes such a place a utopia. As time progresses into the coming decades, we might all wish we could revert to an age of life such as this.
I pose several questions in closing to consider as you continue your search on the secret societies of this world. What would it be like to start over? What would it be like to live thousands of miles away from cities, towns, schools, commutes, workdays, judgment from others, vicarious living, and technological advancements that will one day be the bane of our existence, in order to disconnect from the intricacies of this world?