I was fascinated to read about the Sentinelese recently – a tribe of 250-odd hunter-gatherers living on a fairly big tropical island off the coast of India. They are extremely hostile to visitors and appear to have had no more than cursory contact with people from the outside world.

This picture is the typical view of the Sentinelese – they are seen standing on the beach through a telephoto lens from a boat!

Indian reseachers in the 1970s and 1980s studied the tribe by leaving objects on the beach for them.

Items of red colour seem to be popular and/or significant … red buckets were taken with apparent delight, while green ones were rejected …

Next to the embers maintained in the dwellings, a stick roughly resembling a five-fingered hand is stuck in the ground upright.

After the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the island’s coastline was completely altered by the earthquake and tsunami. An Indian government helicopter went to check on them, and they shot arrows at the hovering aircraft to repel it.

The Sentinelis had first demonstrated their standard pattern of avoiding visitors known since the 1880s and were still following it in the 1990s. Small visiting parties were seen off on the beaches. Whenever a larger number of visitors threatened a landing, the islanders took to their forests and did not return to the beaches until the intruders had left.

Even though there has been no extended contact between the Sentinelese and the outside world, you and I can look closely at their home through the magic of Google Earth.


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Here’s a shipwreck which the islanders have apparently used as a source of metal.


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There are also some sandy clearings and green spots in the jungle which you could almost convince yourself are clearings for villages. Unfortunately, the forest is so dense (look at the top picture of the beach) that there is almost no change of really seeing anything interesting from the air, let alone space.

3 Responses to “Sentinelese: An Island People”

Thank You for the maps and the details.

I hope they will be left in isolation for the next ten years. After that, we can explore them with well-disguised robots without disturbing them (even without their noticing us). It is not worth of destroying them, ten years’ time is not too much, we can wait that few time. Explorer robotic probes will be harmless, because the Sentinelese won’t even notice them. Living field work forever, without contaminating the informants!

I wonder what we will explore after that. A hunter-gatherer people with LIVING traditions. How do magical beliefs originate? Are shamanistic beliefs universal? Today such questions sound like philosophical, but after exploring Sentinelese with hidden microrobots, these questions will become scientific and empirical. Maybe cultural anthropology will be a living science again.

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it totally blows my mind that there are people living out there in the world who know nothing of the technology that we have today. They have no concept of most things that we take foregranted. Truely amazing

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I hope nobody human will interact with them, but, as another commenter said here, on the other hand we should send stealth observation nano robots observe them as soon as those are developed. Imagine if we had high quality videos, sounds and pictures of them living for years and learn how they live, learn their language and customs. It would be just awesome and it would be bring huge benefits to human civilization on pretty basic questions our modern globalized world raised.

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