The Sentinelese: Guardians of an Ancient Culture on North Sentinel Island

north sentinel island

North Sentinel Island, situated in the Bay of Bengal, is an enigmatic place, shrouded in mystery and steeped in the secrets of an ancient culture – the Sentinelese people. For thousands of years, these indigenous inhabitants have lived in isolation, making them one of the last “uncontacted” tribes in the world.

The island, which is roughly the size of Manhattan, is surrounded by coral reefs and is inaccessible to outsiders due to the treacherous waters. Its lush vegetation gives way to steep cliffs that drop off into the sea, creating a natural barrier that has protected the Sentinelese for centuries. The island is a place of great natural beauty, where tropical birds and rare species of plants and animals thrive, and a unique ecosystem that has remained largely unchanged for millennia.

North Sentinel Island

A History of Contact

The first recorded contact with the Sentinelese people was in 1771, when the East India Company ship, the Duchess of Bedford, reached the island. The crew reported that the tribe was hostile and fired arrows at them. In 1867, the British survey ship, the Waterwitch, also reported hostile encounters with the tribe.

In the following years, several other ships attempted to make contact with the tribe, but all encountered hostility. In 1967, the Indian government banned travel to the island in order to protect the Sentinelese and their way of life.

In recent years, the Indian government has adopted a policy of “hands-off” approach towards the Sentinelese, recognizing the importance of respecting their autonomy and isolation. The government has also placed strict restrictions on visiting the island, in order to protect the tribe from outside influences that could potentially harm their way of life.

Maurice Vidal Portman’s Encounter with the Sentinelese

Maurice Vidal Portman

British naval officer Maurice Vidal Portman’s experience with the Sentinelese tribe on North Sentinel Island is a unique and valuable account of the tribe’s culture and way of life. Portman, who visited the island in the late 19th century, documented his experiences in his book “A History Of Our Relations With The Andamanese“.

In his book, Portman describes the Sentinelese as a “warlike” people, who were hostile towards outsiders. He recounts several encounters with the tribe, including an incident in which the Sentinelese fired arrows at his party, injuring one of his men. Despite the hostility, Portman was able to establish some form of communication with the tribe, and was able to gain a valuable insight into their culture and way of life.

Portman writes, “I found the Sentinelese to be a proud and independent people, with a strong sense of community. They were also incredibly resilient, able to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment.” He also notes that the tribe had a deep spiritual connection to their land, with a strong animistic belief system.

Portman’s visit to North Sentinel Island occurred during a time when the British government was attempting to establish contact with the island’s tribes. His book, A History of Our Relations with the Andamanese, is one of the most extensive early accounts of the tribes of the Andaman Islands, including the Sentinelese. Portman’s observations, although made during a colonial era, provide a valuable historical insight into the culture and way of life of the Sentinelese.

Portman’s book is an important historical document, providing valuable information about the Sentinelese that would otherwise be lost. His account of his visit to North Sentinel Island is a testament to the resilience and independence of the Sentinelese people and their deep connection to their land.

The Sentinelese Today

The Sentinelese are believed to have a population of around 50-150 individuals and have a unique language and culture that is completely different from any other known tribe. They have a history of hostility towards outsiders, and in the past, they have been known to attack anyone who comes too close to their island. In 2006, two Indian fishermen were killed by the tribe after their boat drifted too close to the island. The Indian government launched an operation to recover the bodies, but the mission was called off after the Sentinelese began attacking the recovery team with arrows.

Sentinel island india original HD video drone footage of tribal people

It is important to respect the autonomy and isolation of the Sentinelese, who have lived on the island for thousands of years and have chosen to maintain their distance from the outside world. It is crucial to respect their way of life and to ensure that their rights and way of life are protected. Dr. T. N. Pandit, an anthropologist who has studied the tribe for many years, states, “The Sentinelese have survived for thousands of years without our help and interference, and we must respect their right to continue doing so.”

The Sentinelese are not simply a relic of the past, they are a living, breathing people with their own unique culture and way of life, who have managed to survive in a place where others would not have been able to. They are a testament to the resilience and adaptability of human beings, and their existence on North Sentinel Island is a reminder of the importance of preserving our cultural and biological diversity.

Other Uncontacted Tribes

North Sentinel Island is not the only place in the world where uncontacted tribes exist. Other places where these tribes can be found include:

  • The Amazon rainforest in South America, home to several tribes including the Mashco-Piro and the Aw√°.
  • The island of New Guinea in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where several tribes, such as the Korowai and the Kombai, still live in isolation.
  • The Andaman Islands in India, where the Great Andamanese and the Onge tribes have had limited contact with the outside world.
  • The forests of Central Africa, where the Mbuti and the Twa still live in isolation.


North Sentinel Island and its inhabitants are a window into a distant past, where human beings lived in harmony with nature, untouched by the ravages of modern civilization. It is our responsibility to protect these isolated communities and their way of life, and to respect their autonomy and isolation. The Sentinelese have lived on their island for thousands of years, and it is our duty to ensure that their rights and way of life are protected, allowing them to continue living in isolation for generations to come

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