North Sentinel Island Deaths Mystery of Andaman Nicobar Island
North Sentinel Island Deaths Mystery of Andaman Nicobar Island: In November 2018, John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old American missionary, decided to go to India’s Andaman Nicobar’s North Sentinel Island illegally. The natives of this island are believed to be a part of the North Sentinelese people. And they might be the world’s last uncontacted group. It means that they know nearly nothing about the rest of the world.
John was a Christian and was so obsessed with his religion, that he wanted to teach Christianity to the people living on this island. He went to a nearby island and bribed a fisherman with ₹25,000 and convinced the fisherman to drop him off at the island. They begin the journey on the night of 14th November 2018, hiding from the coast guards in the darkness. He was carrying his GoPro camera, some scissors, a kayak for the remaining journey, some dried fish, a football, and a Bible which he had hoped to give them as a gift.
On the morning of 15th November, as soon as they reach the island, he tells the local fisherman to wait at a distance and he goes closer to the island alone on his kayak. He spots some houses and heard women talking, he prepared to park his kayak on the beach, when he spotted 2 Sentinelese men carrying bows and arrows approaching him.
He greets them by saying, “My name is John, I love you, and Jesus loves you. Jesus Christ gave me the authority to come here to you. Here is some fish for you.”The 2 men place their arrows in the bow and get ready to shoot at him.
Panicking, John turns around to leave. Some hours later, he tried again. He went to the north shore of the island this time. From afar he could see about 6 Sentinelese people on the island looking in his direction, shouting, as if trying to say something. Obviously, neither group could understand the language of the other. Friends, there’s no one on the planet who can understand the Sentinelese language, other than the Sentinelese people.
Whatever syllables John could identify, he tried to repeat them and shouts toward them. The Sentinelese people laugh at him then. John slowly kept on approaching them. Remaining at a safe distance, he starts dropping off the ‘gifts’ he had brought for them.
There was a child and a young girl near them, carrying bows and arrows. John got off his kayak and tried to talk with the child. A Sentinelese man then steals his kayak from behind him, while he tries to explain some verses of the Bible to the child. A few seconds later, the child took aim at John’s chest and shot an arrow. The arrow hits the Bible by chance and John’s life was spared.
Panicking once again, John tried to escape. But since he didn’t have his kayak this time, he swims back to the boat somehow. At night, he wrote in his diary, “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold?” “Is this island full of monsters where the natives haven’t even heard Jesus’s name?” He continued writing in his diary, “I don’t want to die. I should go back. Lord, I don’t want to die.”
But his obsession with the Lord had turned into madness. He tried to convince himself that he needed to return to the island as it was the purpose of his life.
On 16th November 2018, he wrote a letter to his family, he tells his parents, “You guys might think I’m intense but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. If I get killed, please, do not blame these people.”
After writing this, he set on once again to Andaman Nicobar’s North Sentinel Island on his boat. This time, he didn’t come back. The local fisherman who had driven him, watched the Sentinelese burying a body from afar. Judging by the clothes, he gets to know that it was John Allen Chau’s body.
“The Sentinelese were first contacted by the government in 1991. The contact party, under the administration, was accompanied by security. The arrow-shooting Sentinelese are a constant fear.” “Are these bows and arrows sending us an ancient message? That has now been forgotten by the people.
History Of North Sentinel
North Sentinel Island is a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. There are 572 islands in total in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. Only 38 of these are inhabited. Of these, only 12 are open to tourists. The islands have been divided into 3 districts. North and Middle Andaman, South Andaman, and Nicobar. The capital is Port Blair in South Andaman.
North Sentinel Island is only about 50 km from here. It is a small island of 60 km². And is covered by a dense forest. The people living there are called the North Sentinelese. But that’s the name we gave them. We don’t know how people refer to themselves. What’s the name they have for themselves? It’s believed that about 70,000 years ago, some people migrated out of Africa. This is known as the ‘Out of Africa’ theory.
That the first modern human beings were from Africa. And the people living on Sentinel Island now, are the direct descendant of the people who migrated out of Africa. This first group of humans went to Yemen from East Africa. From there, they walked to the Indian subcontinent eventually reaching Myanmar, South-East Asia, and East Asia, and eventually spread across these islands, and reached Australia as well. During these thousands of years, the humans who decided to live in the middle east, India, south-east Asia, etc. mixed in with each other, because they had similar terrain.
It was easy to go from one place to another on land. But the humans who settled on the remote islands, couldn’t mix in with the other humans and remained isolated from the rest of the world. It’s said that the North Sentinelese people about 10,000 – 30,000 years ago, came on this island, and since then, they have been isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. It also means that they never learned agriculture.
Agriculture was discovered about 12,000 years ago. You might say that while living on this island, they never felt the need for agriculture. Or they don’t even know that something like agriculture even exists. But this means that this is the last Stone Age group. People still live like they are in the Stone Age. They have a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They don’t grow their food, Instead, they pick fruits from the trees, hunt animals, and fish for food. They are the most isolated people in the world because they want to remain isolated.
Every time the outside world has tried to establish contact with them, there has been violence most of the time. Historically speaking, the oldest written record of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with us is from the 2nd century AD. When a Roman mathematician, Claudius Ptolemy described the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as the ‘Islands of Cannibals’.
This description wasn’t limited to North Sentinel Island only. Rather it was for the entire Andaman and Nicobar Island. So we don’t know which group was being referred to here. After this, in 673 AD, a Chinese traveller, travelling from Sumatra to India, said that the people living on the islands were cannibals. Meaning that they eat human meat. The Arab travellers who visited the Andaman Islands during the 8th and 9th centuries said the same thing.
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In the 11th century, a temple was built during Raja Raja Chola I’s the reign, which contained inscriptions, claiming the same things that they consider these islands impure, and that they believe cannibals live there. If we talk specifically about North Sentinel Island, the first record of it was mentioned in 1771. When an East India Company ship passed by this island and the surveyor spotted the light on this island. The next account of it was in 1867, when an Indian merchant ship with around 100 passengers, met with an accident on the shore of this island. The survivors of the accident were attacked by the Sentinelese.
Fortunately, they could escape with the help of the British Royal Navy. This was the first case of the North Sentinelese people attacking and driving out outsiders from their island. Then in 1880, a British officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, decided to meet with the Sentinelese people to establish contact and try to ‘civilize’ them. By this time, the Britishers had established contact with the other groups in Andaman. They had been in friendly contact, and they could communicate with them as well.
When Portman went to the North Sentinel Island, he brought with him people from the other Andamanese groups. So that the North Sentinelese could communicate with the other groups. Once there, he found that the groups of other groups in Andaman, spoke a language so different from the North Sentinelese language, that they couldn’t communicate with each other. It was impossible to communicate. On his journey, Portman met an old couple on North Sentinel Island and four children. He decided to kidnap them. And to take them back with him to Port Blair. He discovered that the North Sentinelese people were cut off from the rest of the world for so long that after reaching Port Blair, the old couple passed away within a few days.
Portman felt bad for the kids after this, so he returned the children to the island. Handing them some gifts. It is very likely that the children took back germs and bacteria which were completely foreign to the island. It would’ve infected more people there killing many. It’s possible the diseases that we see in modern times, our bodies have developed immunity against them because year after year our ancestors were exposed to these diseases and had developed immunity against them.
But the people living on North Sentinel Island had been cut off from the entire world. Cut off from all the new diseases. So their bodies had not developed immunity. This Portman incident is believed to have been a major reason why the North Sentinelese people are violent towards outsiders. Why do they want to be so isolated?
Present-Day Steps Taken By the Government Of India
After the Independence, the Indian government conducted several expeditions to the North Sentinel Island. In 1967, Triloknath Pandit became the first official anthropologist to visit this island. He had taken a team of 20 members including scientists, members of the Armed Forces, unarmed navy personnel, and the governor. On the island, their team followed the footprints of the Sentinelese, for about 1 km. But they couldn’t find any humans. So the team returned leaving behind some gifts for them. Such as coconuts, pots, pans, and other iron tools. In 1970, an official research team went to this island and set up a stone tablet declaring that North Sentinel Island is a part of the Indian Territory.
In 1974, an Indian film crew went to this island and made a documentary on the groups of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Triloknath Pandit was there with the film crew as well as some armed forces. Once again, as gifts, they left behind some coconuts. They had even taken a live pig, to present as a gift. They left these things on the shore and moved back to see how the locals would react to them. After some time, some tribal people came out to the shore and started attacking them with bows and arrows. One of the arrows hit the director of the film, Prem Vaidya, on his thigh. They even attacked the pig that was left behind as a gift to them.
Killed the pig and buried it in the sand. Friends, this was the first time the North Sentinelese people were captured on camera. After this, Triloknath Pandit made several attempts over the course of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. But it was the same story every time. He would go to the island with small teams and would leave behind pigs and gifts, the groups would kill the pigs each time and bury them in the sand.
Once they gave them a doll as a gift. They shot an arrow at it too and buried it in the sand. In 1981, a merchant ship Primrose, going from Bangladesh to Australia, met with a storm and got stranded on this island. Once again, the people of the Sentinelese groups came to attack this passenger but because of the weather conditions, their arrows could not hit them thankfully.
They sent out distressed calls and somehow managed to survive near the ship. One week later, they were rescued by a helicopter. But this is a major incident in the history of the North Sentinelese people. Because it was the time when this groups had seen iron for the first time in their lives. They discovered iron then. Because friends, after this, whenever contact was established with the North Sentinelese people it was found that these people had started using iron in their bows and arrows.
The iron they had scavenged from this ship. They had managed to use the iron. This shipwreck can be seen on Google Maps. You’ll find it in the north of North Sentinel Island.
The next big historical event took place in 1991. This was the first time when the North Sentinelese people made the first friendly contact. It was the first time when someone had gone to visit them, and they weren’t violent. In January, an expedition was led by Indian anthropologist, Madhumala Chattopadhyay. She went with her small team without any weapons and offered coconuts, and this time, the Sentinelese people actually took the coconuts. Was it because it was different because women had gone to meet them, while all expeditions before it was by men?
There was something quite shocking in this friendly contact. This team had returned and when they went to meet them again the next day, a Sentinelese man had his bow and arrow aimed at them. He would have shot at them any moment. But a Sentinelese woman came forward, and pushed down the arrow, gesturing that he shouldn’t shoot the outsiders. The man listened to the woman and buried his weapon under the sand. This way the members of the expedition could go on the land for the first time. And could give the coconuts to the Sentinelese people with their own hands.
There was another expedition about a month later. Triloknath Pandit and Madhumala went on it together, and once again, the Sentinelese people didn’t use any weapons. They got off their boats and the Sentinelese people collected the coconuts in a friendly way. But it was the last time when the Sentinelese people were so friendly towards the rest of the world. In the expeditions after 1991, every effort to contact the Sentinelese people, saw only violence. We don’t know why it happened. Why during the small time period, the Sentinelese people became so friendly, and later turned violent once again. As a result, after 1997, The Indian government banned people from going to the island.
The government realized that there is no point in trying to communicate with them again and again when they do not want any communication. They are living peacefully on the island and they should be allowed to do so. The government had an Eyes-On, Hands-Off policy toward them. In a way, we will monitor the groups. If they need any assistance, we will give them that. but we will keep our hands off them.
In 2004, there was a devastating Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The officials of the Indian coast guard went to monitor the situation on the island from a helicopter, to ensure that the island was not damaged and the people living there were safe. In return, the helicopter was showered with arrows. And the officials in the helicopter realized that since they were being attacked, the Sentinelese people must be alright. Because of the Tsunami, this island was lifted up by 1.5 meters. The people of the groups seemed quite healthy, so there was no need to worry.
In 2006, there was an unfortunate incident two local fishermen got quite close to the island by mistake, and the Sentinelese people started attacking them, and eventually, they were killed. After this, the government decided that there needs to be a 5 km radius so that no one gets even as close as 5 km from this island.
The 2018 incident of John Allen Chau was the latest incident I told you about at the beginning of this article. This man was madly obsessed with Christianity, knowingly went to the island, and was killed.
About the North Sentinelese people according to John’s diary
The question arises, what do we know about these people? About the North Sentinelese people. It is interesting to know this. According to the diary written by John about his experiences, their height is not more than 5’3″ to 5’5″. Additionally, the Sentinelese people have short hair, they have shining dark skin, and well-defined muscles, there were no signs of obesity or malnutrition. According to John’s diary, some of the people had yellow paste on their faces. They don’t wear clothes But wear some fiber stings on their head, neck, and loins.
Women wear thinner fiber strings and men wear thicker bands. Men carry weapons like bows and arrows and spears. Apart from these, the Sentinelese people know how to build boats. They build small, narrow canoes with wood. They are so narrow that they aren’t even 2 feet wide. Surprisingly, they are not very curious about their surroundings. Normally, humans have this ‘quality’, at least in some humans, which makes them want to explore new places.
The nearest island to the North Sentinel Islands is merely 36 km from it. It is inhabited. Even so, the Sentinelese people never tried to go to the island or explore places outside their island. In terms of food, we know that they cannot farm. They survive by hunting for animals. Such as wild boars. The fish and harvest turtle eggs as well. Apart from these, they eat fruits, flowers, and such things. They even use honey.
Language is one of the most interesting things about the North Sentinelese people. Because they cannot communicate with any outsiders. On one expedition, Triloknath Pandit took along a member from another group in Andaman, the Onge People.
He couldn’t communicate with the Sentinelese at all. Not only this, Triloknath Pandit revealed that when the member of the Onge groups approached them, the Sentinelese people were infuriated by it. Regarding language, John wrote in his diary that their language contains a lot of high-pitched sounds. Such as ba, pa, la, and as. With regard to their lifestyle, the Sentinelese live in 2 different types of houses. A big hut for multiple families to live together, and a small hut for single families. According to John’s diary, there are about 250 Sentinelese on this island. While the estimates of the Indian government range from 50 to 500.
Because no one has been able to count the exact number of people living there. So that’s the estimate. We know this about their behavior that they do not take dead bodies back into the jungle, they don’t cremate the dead, they bury the dead on the beach, under the sand. As for the accounts of the ancient historians, the oldest written records, that the people living there are cannibals, eating humans, it is not true.
We also know that if the people coming to visit them are in small groups, they would attack them, but if the visiting party is large, as was with Triloknath, they hide in the forest instead of attacking them. Many expeditions have spotted pregnant women and children which tells us that the population on this island can sustain itself. And perhaps the most interesting thing that we get to know about them, is that the North Sentinelese people can live sustainably.
They live on one small island without cutting down the forest, living harmoniously with nature, without any overpopulation. It is very interesting because most of the human communities, we have seen, it is often overpopulated. It often happens that they are on a small island and they hunt an animal for food, the animal often goes extinct on the island.
But amazingly, they are living with nature so sustainably, that humans don’t overpower nature. Nowadays, many people believe that we should continue our efforts to establish contact with them. That we need to introduce the rest of the world to them. The technologies that we’ve invented, we should show it to them, so that they can benefit from them too.
That we need to bring development and modernization to them. On the other hand, some people claim that we need to protect them from the outside world. Since they are living peacefully, they should be allowed to remain isolated.
What do you think?
Comment below to let me know. In my opinion, I would choose the second option. There are some major reasons why it is better to keep them isolated. First: whenever they are in contact with the outside world, the diseases that we carry unknowingly, they have no immunity against them. Chances are that they wouldn’t be able to survive the onslaught. Second, and even bigger problem: we have already tried to do so with other groups and the result hasn’t always been good.
For example, the Jarawa People in the Andaman, remained isolated for a long time, without anyone trying to contact them, but when the Indian government tried to establish friendly contact with them in the 1970s, it was successful.
After that, they found out about the rest of the world. They tried to fit in with modern times, Some did fit in, but most of them aren’t happy with it. The packaged food that we consume, some groups members couldn’t even digest it.
Some did go on to become a heavier people because they didn’t know how to control themselves. They had seen so much food at once that they had to hunt for their meal earlier.
When substances such as tobacco and alcohol were introduced to them, they instantly became addicted to them. Because they hadn’t grown up understanding that they need to stay away from those goods. That it’s harmful. As soon as they tried new things, they became addicted to them. Apart from this, their culture lifestyle, languages, their traditions, and things they’ve been holding on to for generations, would be lost when they integrate into modern society.
The other groups in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, are facing this. When the British went to these islands for the first time in the 1800s, to colonize them, there were around 5,000 individuals of the Great Andamanese groups, today, there are only 41 remaining members. Perhaps our efforts to maintain and strengthen our contact with them may prove to be dangerous for them.
And it may eradicate their entire community forever. I hope this article was informative as always. Thank you very much!