What Is The World's Most Isolated Tribe?

By Antonia Čirjak on February 27 2020 in Society

The world’s most isolated tribe is the Sentinelese, sometimes called the Sentinels. Image by Steve Bidmead from Pixabay
  • The Sentinelese are a tribe that has been avoiding modern civilization for centuries and are still refusing any communication with the outside world.
  • It is unknown how they communicate since no one has ever approached them close enough to find out.
  • Numerous expeditions have been made over the last few centuries to try and learn as much about them as possible.

The world’s most isolated tribe is the Sentinelese, sometimes called the Sentinels. They live on the North Sentinel Island situated in the Bay of Bengal in India. They are believed to be among the last uncontacted peoples in the world. Uncontacted peoples, also called uncontacted tribes are groups that live without contact with their neighboring countries and the rest of the world. They mostly live like people used to in pre-industrial times.

They belong to a larger group called the Andamanese people. Other members of this group include the Jarawas, the Shompen, the Great Andamanese, the Onge, and the Nicobarese. Unlike the rest, however, the Sentinelese are the only ones that have continuously been refusing any communication with the outside world. 

Sentinelese Can be Very Hostile

The Sentinelese are considered a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group by the Government of India. This means that the government is making an effort to improve their living conditions since they are not considered to live as developed societies. In 1956 North Sentinel Island was officially made a tribal reserve by the Government of India. This also meant that travel within 3 miles of it was forbidden. Armed guards are patrolling around the island, and not even taking photographs of the island is permitted. 

It is unclear how many members are there in the Sentinelese tribe, but most estimates put the number somewhere between 50 and 200. The Sentinelese are incredibly hostile towards all intruders, refusing any contact with the outside world. There have been cases where people were killed when they landed on the North Sentinel Island, even just approached it.  

The Lifestyle Of The Sentinelese

The Sentinelese are dark-skinned and often shorter than the average height. Most researchers claim that they are around 5 ft 3 in tall on average. They are described as being muscular without signs of obesity. Since they live in complete isolation, we do not know anything about the language they use to communicate. They live as a hunter-gatherer tribe. It is presumed that they hunt the wildlife on the island using bows and arrows. They also catch seafood by using molluscan shells and mud crabs.

Some of their practices are still the same as they were during the Stone Age. Researchers have noticed no signs of them doing any agricultural work. They do, however, use fire, although it is unclear if this is by accident or if they have the knowledge of making fire. The Sentinelese use canoes to travel around the island and use long poles to move around with them. They live in small huts made with four poles that are covered with a roof made of leaves. No other effort is made to make those rudimentary living quarters cozier, so they sleep on the floor.

They have also managed to scavenge metal and created tools from it, so they do recognize its value. Most of the time, they are naked, although they do make and wear jewelry. Sometimes the jewelry is made from the jawbones of deceased relatives. 

Attempts Of Making Contact

The first time the Sentinelese were ever sighted was in 1771, and the first time anyone made contact with them was in 1867. That was when an Indian merchant ship had to escape a monsoon and was forced to dock on the North Sentinel island. They were attacked by the Sentinelese and were forced to defend themselves with sticks and stones. They managed to fight the attackers off and were saved by the Royal navy. Throughout the years, there were many expeditions to make contact with the tribe and learn more about them.

Sometimes the researchers would find gifts left by the Sentinelese or manage to observe from afar, and sometimes they were attacked. However, no peaceful contact was made until 1991. That was the first time the tribe approached the research party without weapons. However, they would not come too close and soon retreated to the island.

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