Andaman archipelago used to be a hunting ground for Burmese slave traders centuries ago, who captured individuals from the four indigenous tribes and sold them into slavery.

The islands became a British colony in 1857 and were used mainly to contain political prisoners involved in the Indian Rebellion.

According to Clare Anderson, a professor of history at the University of Leicester, the British implemented an aggressive approach to the indigenous people, including the Sentinelese tribe.

Among the standard practices was abduction, and members of the tribe would be kidnapped and held for several weeks to testament to British civilization’s superiority. During World War II, the islands also witnessed a series of fierce bombing campaigns.

Such a historical record can play a role in intensifying the tribe’s defensive measure toward any outsiders.

After World War II and since the islands became a Union Territory of India, the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island remained overly cautious with the idea of assimilation or the mere presence of missionaries.

In November 2018, John Allen Chau, a Christian missionary from Alabama, United States, was killed by a Sentinelese and buried on the island.

Wikimedia Commons

10 /10 Attempt For Contact

North Sentinel Island is where the Sentinelese people live. The Indian government administers the island. Throughout much of their history, the Sentinelese barely contacted, at least voluntarily, outsiders.

In the latter 20th century, the Indian government attempted to establish a contact by sending a team from the Anthropological Survey of India to the island.

Most attempts were unsuccessful, but in the early 1990s, some members of the tribe accepted gifts of coconuts, albeit in an overly cautious manner, from the team.

Although it seemed like an uneventful moment, the encounter was massive progress.


9 /10 Triloknath Pandit

Very few people know about the Sentinelese. Even if they know something, it is only a fraction of everything there is to know about the life and culture of the tribe.

No one knows more about the Sentinelese than Triloknath Pandit, who took part in multiple visits to the island from 1967 to 1991.

Pandit was the first professional anthropologist to land on the island. Each attempt followed the same action plan: offered some gifts to members of the tribe and proceeded cautiously depending on how they reacted.

Wikimedia Commons

8 /10 Near-Total Isolation

For tens of thousands of years, the Sentinelese people have lived in almost complete isolation.

However, they came to global attention when in November 2018, they killed John Allen Chau, an American missionary trying to make contact with the tribe.

In the weeks following the reports of Chau’s death, the Sentinelese earned the reputation as a fearsome aggressive tribe.

According to Pandit, it was unfair to describe the tribe as such. Based on his experience from the expeditions, they were essential “peace-loving” people.

7 /10 Aggressive Gestures

Pandit said that during his interactions with the Sentinelese, there were instances when members of the tribe would come out and threaten the team.

However, it never reached the point where anyone was harmed, let alone killed. Each time the Sentinelese became agitated over his presence, the team would take a step back to maintain a safe distance.

Pandit expressed his grief over the death of the American missionary but also suggested that Chau made a mistake during the encounter. Chau persisted somewhat recklessly and paid the ultimate price.

6 /10 Various Gifts

During the first few attempts, the Sentinelese didn’t seem interested in making contact. They hid in the woods and shot arrows at the team led by Pandit.

The team brought an assortment of gifts such as pans, pots, and a large number of coconuts. There were also iron tools like knives and hammers.

Anything that might entice communication would do. Several members of another tribe (Onge) came along during the visit to act as interpreters. Each time, the Sentinelese warriors always displayed angry faces as if they were facing enemies on a battlefield.

5 /10 A Live Pig

Whether or not a visit delivered any result, the team always left the gifts behind, hoping that the Sentinelese would become more welcoming the next time.

Some advantages turned out to be unappreciated. The team once went a tied live pig on the island, but the tribe quickly killed the animal and buried the corpse in the sand.

A real breakthrough came in 1991 when finally the tribe came out peacefully and approached the team on the shoreline. The team jumped into the neck-deep water and handed over various gifts.


4 /10 Unknown Reasons

Since the team did not understand the tribe’s language and gestures, it remains unclear why the Sentinelese suddenly became friendly.

Pandit explained that they decided to make contact, so the encounter happened on their terms: in the water. No one from the team was allowed to step on the island.

During the meeting, attempts to communicate with the tribe using sign language were unsuccessful because everyone seemed too busy accepting the gifts. They appeared to be speaking only among themselves, not to the team.


3 /10 Too Close For Comfort

A young Sentinelese once threatened pandit himself. While he was giving away coconuts during one intense exchange, his boat drifted closer to the beach and further from the rest of the team.

A young boy noticed how Pandit was getting too close for comfort. The boy made a funny face, pulled out his knife, and made a threatening gesture.

Pandit quickly realized the danger and made a retreat. It was clear that the gifts were welcome, but not the people giving them away.

2 /10 No More Expeditions

There have not been official expeditions to North Sentinel Island since 1991. The Indian government has abandoned any attempt to establish communication out of concern that contact with outsiders could put the Sentinelese at risk of contracting infectious diseases.

Due to the complete isolation, the Sentinelese people probably have no immunity even to common illnesses like measles and flu.

Without medical intervention, otherwise, treatable conditions could be deadly. All team members in the expedition led by Pandit were pre-screened for infectious diseases.

1 /10 Shot With An Arrow

Officials said Chau did not obtain permission to visit the island. A fisherman who took him to the shoreline saw the Sentinelese dragging the missionary’s body across the sand on November 17.

The next day the same fishers saw his lifeless body on the shore. A murder investigation was opened following news of his death. The Indian government has no plan to retrieve Chau’s body.

Any further effort to visit the island could carry a potentially high risk of conflict between the Sentinelese and outsiders.

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