If I ask you what is the dumbest way to commit suicide, you simply say oh I don’t know. What if I just say to invade north sentinel island of pre neolithic age indigenous people who have their own sovereignty and it’s illegal to approach beyond a certain nautical miles from the shore of the island. This is too knowingly that they are incredibly harsh and violent towards those who ever come and try to make a contact with them. But here is a man from usa named john allen chau who get killed on this island while trying to make a contact with these sentinelese who are believed to be living on north sentinel island for 60000 years.
It’s always a tragic to know if someone get killed by this way. However, such circumstances when your life is surely going to be in danger, you should abstain from those situations. but it was him, who believed in christianity so firmly that he decided to go there and propagate the messages of Christ to these people. Who knew that these sentinelese who have been showing violent repulsion towards outsiders since medieval era, would have welcomed john and get converted to christianity according to his desire. Now when the result of such daring desire is in front of the world, we can once again discuss what went wrong and what can be further course of action. The first thing first comes to our mind is why john had such a suicidal desire despite having good idea of the consequences. As he already knew that going there was illegal as per the indian law. Keeping this apart, he was warned several times by those fisherman as well who took him there in lieu of money he offered them. Looking at the series of incidents, it’s clear that john was an adventure seeker apart from being a missionary. Here his latent desire of undergoing through ultimate adventure searched for a cover up in form of propagating christianity. He would have thrilled by this idea as he knew if he get succeeded, it would be registered as one of the most remarkable achievement in missionaries history as well as adventure guide book. He went there using a kayak to reach the shore of the island from a distance where boat was standing. At first encounter with the natives, he was warned by them and he had fair chance to return without getting harmed or putting himself in a situation of direct menace to his life. However, getting wounded by an arrow shot by one of the tribesman, he returned to the boat but the very next day he went there again and get killed.
When those fishermen returned the next morning to know the fate of john, they found his body was lying there on the beach and sentinelese were preparing to bury it.
Long history of reluctance
Why north sentinel island residents are so harshly reluctant towards outsiders when other tribal communities of andaman has mingled with mainstream of the civilization.
The answer to this question can be interpreted with a look into the past. Anthropologists have a view that around 60000 years ago, they came there from africa via gulf, india and burma and settled on north sentinel island. It was great explorer marco polo, who had passed through the area in the late 13th century, describing the Andamanese as “a most brutish and savage race, having heads, eyes and teeth like those of dogs.
They are very cruel, and kill and eat every foreigner whom they can lay their hands upon”.
It seems the island remained oblivion for centuries as it was not mentioned in any written documents during that time. It was in 1867 when an Indian ship called the Ninevah was wrecked on its beach. The 106 survivors set up a temporary camp and were attacked a few days later.
They retaliated the attack and saved themselves any how from menace of all of them getting killed by the inhabitants. They were lucky enough to get rescued by an indian navy steamer which reached there in short span of time.
Effort towards friendly contact
The story of sentinelese being violently repulsive towards outsiders propagated throughout the world and as a result of this, it was left alone for almost a century. Then in 1967, when indian government initiated an effort to contact with different tribes of andaman and Nicobar islands and try them to bring into the mainstream of the population. This was an effort to develop the social and economic status of the island. As a result of this, several expeditions were planned and executed to sentinel island as well until 1991. However, all these expeditions failed except one because of their harsh and violent repulsive behaviour. The last expedition in 1991 had a mild success as these sentinelese were not that violently aggressive towards them. They not only came near to the boat but happily accepted the coconuts as a gift brought by the expedition parties. It was led by anthropologist TN Pandit. He even got off into the water and gave coconut to one of the tribesman. One of the member showed his knife towards him as he understood his intention of staying on the island when he found the boat being drifted away from him. After this the boat returned to him and all the expedition participants left the shore. After this, incident, indian government realizing their intention to remain isolated and reluctance towards outsiders, banned visiting there beyond a certain nautical mile from the shore. In 2004, when tsunami hit the andaman sea and sentinel island also get affected, a rescue team was sent to find out the survivors. There helicopter was attacked by bows and arrows by two inhabitants who emerged out of the forest towards the shore. The rescue party returned to port blair realizing that most of them would have survived the tsunami escaping towards the higher places.
In 2006, two fishermen get killed by sentinelese whose boat incidentally drifted towards the island. Their body could not be recovered due to retaliation by them.
Recently, government of india lifted the earlier ban.
Vulnerability against common diseases
It is believed that settlers of north sentinel island have no immunity against many diseases and so if an outsider visits them, he will put them in a situation where they can get severely infected by a flu virus and as a result of this entire community can be wiped out. We are not in a position to know was they get affected by coming into the contact with john or members of different expedition party.
It is believed that their population might lie somewhere between 40 to 400. Anthropologists are worried about their existence for longer period of time. This is because so little numbers itself presenting a menace to get wiped out the entire population as they inevitably have incest relationship. Such relationships are not good for healthy offspring.
North sentinel island and its inhabitants are heritage for the world but whether they should be left alone as always is a matter of concern because their dwindling numbers will make their survival impossible for longer period of times. What if they get wiped off one day, and it will remain a mystery how they had such an isolated subsistence since pre neolithic age.