Friday, June 9, 2017

The World's Last Uncontacted Tribe

This Indian Island Is Home To The World's Last Uncontacted Tribe

The tribesmen vigorously ward off any attempted contact with bows, arrows, and javelins.

A lush island paradise sits in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India. Before you get any ideas about having your honeymoon there or taking a tropical vacation on its beaches, you'll have to look elsewhere. The island is home to a tribe that fiercely resists contact with the outside world.
North Sentinel Island technically belongs to India, but even the Indian government no longer tries to contact the Sentinelese people. They have sent several expeditions in the past, but each one was met with more violent resistance than the last until the trips stopped altogether. Tribesmen killed two fishermen who accidentally strayed onto the beach of North Sentinel Island in 2006.
There have been brief moments of contact between the modern world and the Sentinelese, but in the last 20 years, the tribe has intensified their resistance to contact. Those brief encounters have given outsiders only glimpses of their lives, but here is what we know.
Isolation makes the Sentinelese an extremely rare group. There is no evidence that they practice agriculture or can produce fire. They subsist through fishing, hunting, and gathering plants.
The Sentinelese never developed advanced metalworking skills, at least partly due to the island not having the raw materials necessary to make metal tools. Despite that, the Sentinelese have adapted found metal into tools and weapons. Whenever ships have run aground near the island, the tribesmen have searched the ships for iron to fashion into tools or weapons.
The Sentinelese do have an arsenal of weapons at their disposal. They have chased off various outsiders with bows and arrows and javelins. They have untipped arrows that they shoot as warning shots to ward off intruders.
The tribesmen have a language, but it has been so little studied that it is unclassified and not thought to be related to the languages of their nearest neighbors.
Westerners would be foolish to think that their lack of technology makes the Sentinelese less intelligent. Their island was greatly affected by the tsunami of 2004, but the tribe adapted to the new conditions and continued to survive through fishing. They make fishing nets, canoes, adzes, and woven baskets.
Although the tribe could certainly learn a lot from the outside world, their resistance to contact might be the only thing keeping them alive. The isolated tribesmen do not have the strong immune systems that other humans have from co-mingling in cities for thousands of years.
Other islanders who have been more receptive to outsiders have suffered high mortality rates. Even brief contact in 1880 between British explorers and locals led to the death of an elderly Sentinelese couple from disease.
Contacting the Sentinelese and learning what life is like for them would certainly be interesting, but it would be far too dangerous for them. In some ways, knowing there is a virtually uncontacted tribe living in our midst is a reassuring thought. As the internet and globalization make the world more homogeneous, we know there is at least one tribe that is forging their own way in the world.


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