Occasionally, the international press will report “first contact” stories about tribes deep in the Amazon. Most of these groups, though, have already had some indirect contact with our civilization through trade, and we can find ways to communicate with them fairly quickly. On the other hand, the “Sentinelese” people of North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean know that we are out there and they want nothing to do with us. If you approach North Sentinel in a boat, you’re likely to be met with a hail of arrows, and if you land, the Sentinelese will probably retreat into the forest—if they don’t find a clear opportunity to shoot you.

As a result we know almost nothing about the Sentinelese. Their technologies, customs, and social structure can only be guessed from vague clues picked up during the few times that anthropologists and surveyors foolishly—and briefly—set foot on the island:

Technology and Survival

They hunt, gather, and fish using spears, harpoons, and bows and arrows. They do not farm. They do not raise animals. They seem to like coconuts.

Physical Characteristics

They have dark skin and “peppercorn hair” like other southeast Asian people. They seem to be short. But no one has gotten a close enough look to say much more.

Population

We don’t know, but it’s somewhere between 30 and 500 people.

Social Structure

We have no idea. However, on at least one occasion, visitors have seen one man wearing what looks like a gold necklace and headdress. He might be a leader of some kind.

Sentinelese man with gold adornments.  Image courtesy of survivalinternational.org

Language

We have no idea.

Religion

We have no idea.

How Long Have they Been on North Sentinel?

We have no idea, but they were established there by no later than 1880. So, somewhere between 135 and 60,000 years.

Why Are They So Hostile to Outsiders?

Why not?

Current Status

No one outside the island knows what is going on with the Sentinelese today, since the Indian government stopped trying to land on the island after 1996. However, in 2004, India tried to assess whether they had survived the recent tsunami, and were met with some reassuring arrows. This is probably the most recent existing photograph of a Sentinelese person:

A Sentinelese Person Fires at an Indian Government Helicopter in 2004.  Image courtesy of TheHindu.com.


Featured Image: Sentienelese People Seen On Shore.  Image courtesy of OddityCentral.com.