North Sentinel Island
|Location||Bay of Bengal|
|Adjacent bodies of water||Bay of Bengal|
|Area||59.67 km2 (23.04 sq mi)|
|Length||7.8 km (4.85 mi)|
|Width||7.0 km (4.35 mi)|
|Coastline||31.6 km (19.64 mi)|
|Highest elevation||122 m (400 ft)|
|Union territory||Andaman and Nicobar Islands|
|Tehsil||Port Blair Tehsil|
(census estimate, actual population highly uncertain) May be as high as 400
|Population rank||-1[clarification needed]|
|Avg. summer temperature||30.2 °C (86.4 °F)|
|Avg. winter temperature||23.0 °C (73.4 °F)|
North Sentinel Island is one of the Andaman Islands, which includes South Sentinel Island, in the Bay of Bengal. It is home to the Sentinelese who, often violently, reject any contact with the outside world, and are among the last people worldwide to remain virtually untouched by modern civilization. As such, only limited information about the island is known.
Nominally, the island belongs to the South Andaman administrative district, part of the Indian union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. In practice, Indian authorities recognise the islanders' desire to be left alone and restrict their role to remote monitoring, even allowing them to kill non-Sentinelese people without prosecution. Thus the island can be considered a sovereign area under Indian protection.
North Sentinel lies 36 kilometres (22 mi) west of the town of Wandoor in South Andaman Island, 50 km (31 mi) west of Port Blair, and 59.6 kilometres (37.0 mi) north of its counterpart South Sentinel Island. It has an area of about 59.67 km2 (23.04 sq mi) and a roughly square outline.
North Sentinel is surrounded by coral reefs, and lacks natural harbours. The entire island, other than the shore, is forested. There is a narrow beach encircling the island, behind which the ground rises 20 m (66 ft), and then gradually to between 46 m (150 ft):257 and 122 m (400 ft) near the centre. Reefs extend around the island to between 0.93 and 1.5 kilometres (0.5–0.8 nmi) from the shore. A forested islet, Constance Island, also "Constance Islet", is located about 600 metres (2,000 ft) off the southeast coastline, at the edge of the reef.
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake tilted the tectonic plate under the island, lifting it by 1 to 2 metres (3 to 7 ft). Large tracts of the surrounding coral reefs were exposed and became permanently dry land or shallow lagoons, extending all the island's boundaries – by as much as 1 kilometre (3,300 ft) on the west and south sides – and uniting Constance Islet with the main island.:347
The Onge, one of the other indigenous peoples of the Andamans, were aware of North Sentinel Island's existence and their traditional name for it is Chia daaKwokweyeh.:362–363 They also have strong cultural similarities with what little has been remotely observed amongst the Sentinelese. However, Onge who were brought there by the British during the 19th century could not understand the language, so a significant period of separation is likely.:362–363
Rajendra Chola I (1014 - 1044), one of the Tamil Chola dynasty kings, conquered the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to use them as a strategic naval base to launch a naval expedition against the Sriwijaya Empire (a Buddhist empire based in the island of Sumatra, Indonesia). They called the islands Tinmaittivu ("Valour/Truth/Strength islands" in Tamil).
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a whole provided a temporary maritime base for ships of the Maratha Empire in the 17th century. The Maratha navy's admiral Kanhoji Angre established naval supremacy with a base in the islands and is credited with attaching those islands to India.
British surveyor John Ritchie, observed "a multitude of lights" from an East India Company hydrographic survey vessel, the Diligent, as it passed by the island in 1771.:362–363 Homfray, an administrator, travelled to the island in March 1867.:288
Toward the end of the same year's summer monsoon season, the Nineveh, an Indian merchant ship, was wrecked on a reef near the island. The 106 surviving passengers and crewmen landed on the beach in the ship's boat and fended off attacks by the Sentinelese. They were eventually found by a Royal Navy rescue party.:362–363
An expedition led by Maurice Vidal Portman, a government administrator who hoped to research the natives and their customs, accomplished a successful landing on North Sentinel Island in January 1880. The group found a network of pathways and several small, abandoned villages. After several days, six Sentinelese (an elderly couple and four children) were captured and taken to Port Blair. The colonial officer in charge of the operation wrote that the entire group, "sickened rapidly, and the old man and his wife died, so the four children were sent back to their home with quantities of presents".:288 A second landing was made by Portman on 27 August 1883 after the eruption of Krakatoa was mistaken for gunfire and interpreted as the distress signal of a ship. A search party landed on the island and left gifts before returning to Port Blair.:288 Portman visited the island several more times between January 1885 and January 1887.:288
Indian exploratory parties under orders to establish friendly relations with the Sentinelese made brief landings on the island every few years beginning in 1967. In 1975, Leopold III of Belgium, on a tour of the Andamans, was brought by local dignitaries for an overnight cruise to the waters off North Sentinel Island. The cargo ship MV Rusley ran aground on coastal reefs in mid-1977, and the MV Primrose did so in August 1981. The Sentinelese are known to have scavenged both wrecks for iron. Settlers from Port Blair also visited the sites to recover the cargo. In 1991, salvage operators were authorized to dismantle the ships.:342
After the Primrose grounded on the North Sentinel Island reef on 2 August 1981, crewmen several days later noticed that some men carrying spears and arrows were building boats on the beach. The captain of Primrose radioed for an urgent drop of firearms so his crew could defend themselves. They did not receive any because a large storm stopped other ships from reaching them. However, the heavy seas also prevented the islanders from approaching the ship. One week later, the crewmen were rescued by a helicopter under contract to the Indian Oil And Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC)..
The first peaceful contact with the Sentinelese was made by Triloknath Pandit, a director of the Anthropological Survey of India, and his colleagues on 4 January 1991.:289 Indian visits to the island ceased in 1997.
The Sentinelese survived the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and its after-effects, including the tsunami and the uplifting of the island. Three days after the earthquake, an Indian government helicopter observed several islanders, who shot arrows and threw stones at the hovering aircraft.:362–363 Although the tsunami disturbed the fishing grounds, the Sentinelese appear to have adapted.
On 26 January 2006, two fishermen, Sunder Raj, age 48, and Pandit Tiwari, age 52, were killed by Sentinelese when their boat accidentally drifted too close to the island when they were fishing for mud crabs. The Indian government did not seek to prosecute the deaths.
Since then, there has been no contact between the Sentinelese and the rest of the world, and a 3-mile exclusion zone has been established around the island.
North Sentinel Island is inhabited by a group of indigenous people, the Sentinelese. Their population is estimated at between 50 and 400 individuals. They reject any contact with other people, and are among the last people to remain virtually untouched by modern civilization.
The population faces the potential threats of infectious diseases to which they have no immunity, as well as violence from intruders. The Indian government has declared the entire island and its surrounding waters extending 3 nautical miles (5.6 kilometres) from the island to be an exclusion zone. At the 2011 census, the India surveyors counted 15 natives on the shore of the island.
The Andaman and Nicobar Administration stated in 2005 that they have no intention to interfere with the lifestyle or habitat of the Sentinelese and are not interested in pursuing any further contact with them or enforcing law on the island. Although North Sentinel Island is not legally an autonomous administrative division of India, scholars have referred to it and its people as effectively autonomous, or "independent".
Outline map of the Andaman Islands, with the location of North Sentinel Island highlighted (in red).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to North Sentinel Island.|
- Geological Survey of India
- The Sentinelese People - history of the Sentinelese and of the island
- Brief factsheet about the indigenous people of the Andaman Islands by the Andaman & Nicobar Administration (archived 10 April 2009)
- "The Andaman Tribes: Victims of Development"
- Video clip from Survival International
- Photographs of the 1981 Primrose rescue
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands travel guide from Wikivoyage