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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

After killing of US national, spotlight on reclusive Sentinelese tribe with no contact to outside world

The Sentinelese are hunters and gatherers, who live on the out-of-bounds North Sentinel island, isolated from the outside world. They are to believed to be the world’s last pre-Neolithic tribe.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2018 00:24 IST
Tanmay Chatterjee
Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
No census department official has ever set foot on the North Sentinel Island. But it is estimated that around 60 Sentinalese men, women and children live there.
No census department official has ever set foot on the North Sentinel Island. But it is estimated that around 60 Sentinalese men, women and children live there. (Indian Coast Guard)
         

American national John Allen Chau’s killing on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ North Sentinel Island on November 16 has brought the reclusive Sentinelese tribe into focus. The Sentinelese inhabit the island, which is located 102 km west of the Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

They are hunters and gatherers, who live on the out of bounds North Sentinel Island isolated from the outside world. The Sentinelese are to believed to be the world’s last pre-Neolithic tribe. Chau, 26, was killed after some fishermen illegally ferried him to the island on November 16.

The fishermen spotted his body, which is yet to be recovered, a day later. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands director general of police Dipendra Pathak said the Sentinelese are protected by the law and nobody, except tribal welfare officers, are allowed to step onto their island.

“This tribe shuns people from the outside world and they attack encroachers. It is well known and yet seven fishermen took Chau to the island. They watched him,” said Pathak.

No census department official has ever set foot on the North Sentinel Island. But it is estimated that around 60 men, women, and children of the endangered tribe live there. The estimated Sentinelese population was 117 between 1901 and 1921, according to the census department.

In 1931, the number was estimated to be around 50. In February 2001, two groups of census officials conducted a visual survey from boats. One group could count 31 Sentinelese men, women and children while the other 39.

British soldiers had tried to conduct the first survey of the island in 1880, according to records available with the Andaman and Nicobar police. It is also believed to be the first entry of outsiders into North Sentinel. In 1967, anthropologist Triloknath Pundit tried to contact the Islanders. He landed with police but the expedition failed.

Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi)’s DST Centre for Policy Research senior project scientist Pankaj Sekhsaria said the North Sentinel Island is the only home of the Sentinelese.

“The island is a tribal reserve under the provisions of the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956. The population size is not known for sure because they cannot be accessed.”

Sekhsaria said the Sentinelese killed local fishermen, whose boat had drifted onto the island, a few years back. Their bodies could not be recovered. A volley of arrows from the Sentinelese had forced a helicopter to return without retrieving the bodies.

“There has been no contact with them to the best of what I know. Nobody has studied the Sentinelese. They have remained isolated and hostile,” said Sekhsaria.

First Published: Nov 22, 2018 00:02 IST