- After 12 years, the Sentinelese have again rejected external contact in the most emphatic way possible. In 2006, two fishermen went harvesting crabs illegally off North Sentinel Island and did not return. Last week, American John Allen Chau made a landing with the help of some local people — and is thought to be lying under the island’s sand now.
Free in spirit and faith
- Chau apparently went to preach Christianity to the Sentinelese. Missionaries have been historically unwelcome in the Andamans, and the tribes of the Islands have resisted every occupation force with bows and arrows.
- The Great Andamanese, an alliance of ten coastal clans, fought the Battle of Aberdeen against the British in 1859, and were enslaved and eventually decimated. The seafaring Onge were forced to make room for the settlers. The forest-dwelling Jarawa fiercely resisted outsiders until the late 1990s. The reclusive Sentinelese still hold their tiny fort. All remain animistic in faith.
- Missionaries had greater success on the Nicobar Islands to the south, which lie on the ancient marine trade route between Europe and the Far East. Evangelists started to approach the Nicobar tribes from the 15th century onward, and a Christian movement eventually succeeded on the Islands during the final decades of British occupation.
An island of isolation
- The Nicobar tribes are Mongoloid; the Andaman tribes, including the Sentinelese, are Negrito — evidence for the Homo sapiens migration from East Africa some 70,000 years ago.
- The Sentinelese are a pre-Neolithic people who have inhabited North Sentinel Island for an estimated 55,000 years without contact with the outside world. They are short statured, possibly due to the “island effect” that causes genetic limitation over time.
- The Sentinelese and other aboriginal tribes of the archipelago are protected under The Andaman and Nicobar (Protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation, 1956. Due to their isolation, it is unlikely the Sentinelese have immunity against even common diseases. A large chunk of the population of the 10 Great Andamanese tribes was wiped out after the indigenous peoples caught syphilis, measles, and influenza on an epidemic scale following contact with the early settlers. Between 1998 and 2004, when the Jarawa started to respond to the state, all government hospitals bordering their reserve opened special wards to treat them for infections.
- The Sentinelese have, however, remained hostile from the time efforts began to reach out to them in 1967. The government gave up in the mid-1990s, and in order to safeguard their health and sovereignty, decided that no one could enter a 5-km buffer zone around their island, which was already out of bounds.