Forbidden Island

Voices Past, Present, and Future would like to introduce to you one of the most forbidden places to visit in the world.

North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese, an indigenous people in voluntary isolation who have defended, by force, their protected isolation from the outside world.

  • In order to prevent the tribal community from getting foreign diseases to which they have no acquired immunity, these people are protected under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Act of 1956. This act prohibits travel to the island and any approach closer than five nautical miles. The area is patrolled by the Indian Navy.

Has anyone ever left North Sentinel Island?

  • In 1896, a convict escaped from the penal colony on Great Andaman Island on a makeshift raft and drifted across the North Sentinel beach. His body was discovered by a search party some days later with several arrow-piercings and a cut throat. The party recorded that they did not see any islanders.

How many Sentinelese are left?

  • It is estimated that there are 50-200 people, and that they support their numbers with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle by building canoes for fishing and crabbing, and hunting small game with bows, arrows and spears.

Is it illegal to go to the North Sentinel Island?

  • This is supposedly one of the most dangerous and hardest places to visit on the planet, deep in the Indian Ocean is where you will find this island.
  • This place is so dangerous that the Indian governmet has banned its people from going anywhere near it.
  • Going within three miles of the islnad is actually illegal.

Death of an American tourist:

The death of an American tourist who illegally visited the isolated North Sentinel Island had drawn the world’s attention to the small island’s reclusive inhabitants. Over the last 200 years, outsiders have visited the island several times, and it often ended badly for both sides.

Why don’t the Sentinelese like visitors?

One night in 1771, an East India Company vessel sailed past Sentinel Island and saw lights gleaming on the shore. The ship was on a hydrographic survey mission and had no reason to stop, so the Sentinelese remained undisturbed for nearly a century, until an Indian Merchant ship called the Nineveh ran aground on the reef. 86 passengers and 20 crew managed to swim and splash their way to the beach. They huddled there for three days before the Sentinelese evidently decided the intruders had overstayed their welcome. This was a point they made with bows and iron-tipped arrows.

Western history only records the Nineveh’s side of the encounter, but it’s interesting to speculate on what might have been happening in Sentinelese villages behind the scenes.

  • Was there a debate about how to handle these newcomers?
  • Did the shipwreck victims cross a boundary or violate a law unknown to them, prompting the Sentinelese to respond?
  • Did it just take three day to decide what to do?

The Nineveh’s passengers and crew responded with sticks and stones, and the two sides formed an uneasy detente until a Royal Navy vessel arrived to rescue the shipwreck survivors.

Visits to the island have been sporadic until 1981….. In 1974, a National Geographic crew tagged along and the director caught an arrow in the thigh for his trouble. The exiled King Leopold III of Belgium passed close to the island on a boat tour in 1975, and the Sentinelese warned him off with arrows.

In 2004, the Indian Coast Guard helicopters flew over the island after the 2004 tsunami. They found that the Sentinelese were in good shape and not at all pleased to see the Coast Guard. They attacked the helicopter with bows and arrows.

In 2006, an Indian crab harvesting boat drifted ashore, and the Sentinelese killed both fisherman and buried their remains.

Given the history of the Sentinelese islanders it is not surprising that these peoples saw American tourist John Allen Chau as a trespasser when he stepped onto their island earlier this month and stood on the beach singing hymns. They had chased him away twice, but when he ventured ashore a third time, it is believed that the Sentinelese killed him, and now it appears that they have buried his remains. The Indian government has called off the search for Chau’s body, citing danger to both search personnel and the Sentinelese people.

Voices Past, Present, and Future hopes that you enjoyed the trip to the forbidden island of the Sentinelese people. I hope that you are like me and choose not to make this an island of choice to try and visit.

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