Tribe is the term we use, to signify a common group of people who predominantly follow a unique social structure. They have preserved their culture since the existence of time and wish to stay in the same.
Without involving in modernisation and consumerism race, they co-exist with nature.
There are multiple such tribes in India who have traditionally followed their culture in consonance with nature and have refused to mingle with modernity.
They are very reluctant to leave their way of life that is why; the government of India has made laws, rules and regulations to preserve their unique identity.
In the long list of such tribes, the Sentinelese is the most distinct one. They inhabit North Sentinel Island of Andaman Islands Group.
Other than the Sentinelese, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands group is the inhabitant region of five other tribes – the Great Andamanese, the Jarawas, the Onge, the Shompen and the Nicobarese.
But, unlike these five tribes, the Sentinelese is most hostile towards the outside world and has refused to interact with anyone.
The Anthropological Survey of India report 2016 in its ‘Vulnerable Tribe Groups’ estimated that the population of the Sentinelese would be in between 100 and 150. Mostly engaged in hunter-gatherer activities, they still use bows and arrows for hunting.
They have been living in primitive culture where the concept of storage or business does not exist. Even agricultural practices have not reached to their culture.
True to primitive nature, they either cover their body with tree leaves or mostly stay naked. Like the Stone Age, they wear ornaments such as necklaces and headbands made of seashells.
The use of unique art has also been reported from their arrows and bows. They engrave simple geometric arts on their weapons.
As they mostly stayed alone on a geographically isolated island, the language of the Sentinelese is not known. But, it is assumed that as they are geographically located with other tribes like onge, jarawas and shompen, so the Jarawa language might be popular among them.
Also Read: Christian missionary dies while attempting to ‘declare Jesus’ to Sentinelese
British Effort to Meddle Killed Them
Although, there were several efforts made to establish contact with the Sentinelese but, the first recorded visit is dated back to 1867 by a colonial officer Jeremiah Homfray.
Further, in 1880, Royal Navy officer Maurice Vidal Portman led an armed expedition to the island.
Considering the danger, whole Sentienelese abandoned their inhabited region. After several days of searching, officers captured six sentinelese, an elderly man, a woman and four children.
When they were brought to the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar, Port Blair, the woman died and children fell ill. Considering the situation, the colonial officers sent them back with huge gifts in order to establish good relationship.
After the independence of India, the government declared North Sentinel Island, the inhabited island of Sentinels, a tribal reserve in 1956. Traveling within 3 nautical miles of the island and photography was declared prohibited.
Considering missionary’s frequent visit to tribal area, in 1967, a group of 20 people comprised of armed officers, the governor and anthropologist tried to establish contact but they failed to locate them.
Later in 1991, the first peaceful contact was established with the Sentinelese. A team of anthropologists led by Madhumala Chattopadhyay, visited the island on January 4, 1991. In this first peaceful gesture, they collected coconuts.
Also Read: American missionary killed by an endangered tribe in Andaman Islands
Killing of Missionary
In November 2018, a 26 year old American named John Allen Chau travelled to North Sentinel Island with the intention to establish contact.
Reports suggest that he was trained and was sent by the US-based Christian missionary organisation All Nations, to convert them.
On 15th November, Allen Chau, with the help of local fishermen, visited the island and tried to communicate with the Sentinelese.
He tried to offer gifts and speak in some native language but the effort failed. He retracted when a sentinelese boy shot an arrow at him.
He again tried to visit the island on November 17th. This time he went alone without being accompanied by the local fishermen.
After some time, fishermen notices that the sentinelese were dragging the body of Chau, and later he was found on shore of the island.
Since then, the government has increased surveillance over the island and tries to protect them from outside. As the Sentinelese wish to live peacefully on their island, it will be wise to let them be at their primitive existence.
In this time of modern consumerism, when we have exploited the earth’s resources and brought significant change in temperature, their co-existence with nature presents an ideal picture.
We call ourselves ‘civilised’ and live in a more uncivilied way. The lifestyle of Sentinelese with nature should be accepted on a positive note and we should learn to respect it.
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