If you are ready to pack your bags and travel the world, there is one place you should avoid. In fact, it’s actually illegal to go anywhere near North Sentinel Island. Truthfully, there is a very good reason why this is the case.
You might think that sounds a bit extreme, making it illegal to visit an island, but there is some sound logic behind this. The Sentinelese people have not had much contact with other humans in the 60,000 years they’ve lived on the island- and they like to keep it that way. North Sentinel Island is both extremely difficult to access and dangerous for anyone who attempts to do so.
According to Travel and Leisure, “India has banned its citizens from visiting North Sentinel Island or attempting to make contact with the people who live there. Going within three miles of the island is illegal.” However, people still have tried to visit the indigenous tribe.
Through the ’70s, 80s, and 90s, anthropologists sporadically visited the island in hopes of studying the tribe. Not keen on having guests, the Sentinelese people made it clear the outsiders were to keep their distance. The anthropologists would deliver coconuts (which do not grow on the island), pots and pans, live pigs, and plastic toys. However, most of these ‘gifts’ ended up being buried in the sand and avoided by the tribe, they did seem to enjoy the coconuts and used the metal from the pots and pans for their own needs.
North Sentinel Island Visitors and Prisoners
Most people who pass too close to the island are met with arrows and pointed spears. The first recorded instance of someone noticing the populated island was back in 1771, when an East Indian company ship passed by. They were on a survey expedition and had no reason to stop. Therefore, the North Sentinel Island tribesmen and women ignored the vessel.
Approximately a century later was when the Indian merchant ship, Nineveh, ran aground with 86 passengers and 20 crew. Approximately 3 days later the Sentinelese people decided that the foreigners had to leave, and shot arrows at them, hoping they would vacate. Eventually, the British Royal Navy arrived to rescue the Nineveh crew and passengers. While they were at it, they claimed the island as one of Britain’s colonial holdings. Shortly after, in 1880, a Royal Navy officer named Maurice Vidal Portman invaded North Sentinel Island under the guise of anthropology. Most of the tribespeople fled to their huts, but a few were unfortunately too slow to hide. Portman and his crew captured them.
Two elderly Sentinelese and four children were kidnapped and taken to Port Blair, where they became incredibly ill. Sadly, the elderly couple passed away. Portman decided it was best to bring the children back to the island, where he dropped them off. It is unclear whether or not the children’s sickness spread, or how many of the Sentinelese may have died from Portman’s actions.
Actions and Consequences
Obviously, this left the Sentinelese people upset and they never forgot what outsiders did to their people. In 1896 an escaped convict from the Great Andaman Island Penal Colony washed ashore on a makeshift raft. When he was found, his body was full of arrows and his throat was slit. Thankfully, this was enough for the British and others to leave the islanders alone. At least for another century or so.
Trinok Nath Pandit led an anthropological expedition to the island about 100 years after the Nineveh shipwreck. According to Forbes, “Pandit and his team left gifts: bolts of cloth, candy, and plastic buckets. But naval officers and Indian police accompanying Pandit also stole from Sentinelese, taking bows, arrows, baskets, other items from their unguarded homes despite the anthropologists’ protests.” It’s not surprising they don’t have warm fuzzy feelings towards the outside world.
For nearly 25 years, Pandit and his team continued to visit the island and drop off coconuts, live pigs, pots and pans, candy, toys, and other gifts. While they were there, it was a very short visit and the Sentinelese kept trained arrows on them the entire time until they left.
While National Geographic was with the anthropologists, the director of the film crew took an arrow to the thigh in 1974. In 1975, exiled King Leopold III of Belgium passed nearby the island and was warned away with a swarm of arrows. In 1981, the ship Primrose ran aground but was immediately rescued by helicopter. It is said the North Sentinel Island people salvaged metal from the ship for their own purpose. During this time, and for the next decade, Pandit continued his visits. In 1996 the Indian government suspended the anthropologists’ visits.
Why it’s Illegal to Visit the North Sentinel Island
Shortly after a tsunami hit the area in 2004, a helicopter flew over the island. They wanted to see if there was damage to the island and if the people needed help. It turns out they were just fine. The helicopter was attacked with bows and arrows. In 2006, a crab fishing boat washed ashore, and the Sentinelese killed both fishermen and buried the bodies. Recently, in 2018, another visitor arrived at the island.
John Allen Chau, an American tourist, and missionary disregarded all warnings. Even though the government of India and the people of North Sentinel Island made things pretty clear. It is illegal to go to the island or to even go within 3 miles of the island. John tried three times to spread his message (and germs) and was met with death. Just like the others, his remains were buried and left.
The people of the island have not had contact with the outside world or anything from the outside world. This means their immune systems are ill-equipped to navigate our globalized world. Even the foods we eat could make them horribly ill. All they want is to be left alone.
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