North Sentinel Island

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North Sentinel Island
North Sentinel Island.jpg
2009 NASA image of North Sentinel Island; the island's protective fringe of coral reefs can be seen clearly.
Nth Sentinel locale.png
Outline map of the Andaman Islands, with the location of North Sentinel Island highlighted (in red).
Coordinates 11°33′N 92°14′E / 11.550°N 92.233°E / 11.550; 92.233Coordinates: 11°33′N 92°14′E / 11.550°N 92.233°E / 11.550; 92.233[1]
Archipelago Andaman Islands[2]
Area 72 km2 (28 sq mi)[2]
Highest elevation 122 m (400 ft)[1]
Union Territory Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Population 250 to 300[3] (as of 2005)
Ethnic groups Sentinelese[2]
Bay of Bengal, with Andaman Islands south of Myanmar

North Sentinel Island is one of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. It lies to the west of the southern part of South Andaman Island.[2] Most of the island is forested.[4] It is small, located away from the main settlements on Great Andaman, surrounded by coral reefs, and lacks natural harbours.

A group of indigenous people, the Sentinelese, live on North Sentinel Island. Their population is estimated to range from 50 to 500 individuals.[2] The Sentinelese reject any contact with other people, and are among the last people to remain virtually untouched by modern civilization.[5] 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 thus declared the entire island, which is approximately the size of Manhattan, and its surrounding waters extending 3 mi (4.8 km) from the island, to be an exclusion zone.[6]


Early history[edit]

The Onge were aware of North Sentinel Island's existence and their traditional name for it is Chia daaKwokweyeh.[2][7]:362–363 They also have strong cultural similarities with what little has been remotely observed amongst the Sentinelese.[7]:362–363 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.[2][7]:362–363

British exploration[edit]

The earliest recorded mention of North Sentinel Island was made in 1771 by the British surveyor John Ritchie, who observed "a multitude of lights" from an East India Company hydrographic survey vessel, the Diligent, as it passed by the island.[2][5][7]:362–363 Homfray, an administrator, travelled to the island in March 1867.[8]: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.[7]: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 kidnapping 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".[2][5][8]: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.[2][8]:288 Portman visited the island several more times between January 1885 and January 1887.[8]:288

Recent history[edit]

Indian exploratory parties under orders to establish friendly relations with the Sentinelese made brief landings on the island every few years beginning in 1967.[2] 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.[5] The cargo ships MV Rusley and MV Primrose ran aground on coastal reefs in mid-1977 and August 1981 respectively. The Sentinelese are known to have scavenged these wrecks for iron. Settlers from Port Blair also visited the sites to recover cargo. In 1991, salvage operators were authorized to dismantle the ships.[7]:342

On 2 August 1981, the ship Primrose grounded on the North Sentinel Island reef. A few days later, crewmen on the immobile vessel observed that small black men were carrying spears and arrows and building boats on the beach. The captain of the Primrose radioed for an urgent drop of firearms so the crew could defend themselves, but did not receive them due to a large storm stopping vessels from reaching them. Heavy seas kept the islanders away from the ship. After a week, the crew were rescued by a helicopter working under contract to the Indian Oil And Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

The first peaceful contact with the Sentinelese was made by Trilokinath Pandit, a director of the Anthropological Survey of India, and his colleagues on 4 January 1991.[8]:289[9] Indian visits to the island ceased in 1997.[2]

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 event, an Indian government helicopter observed several of them, who shot arrows and threw stones at the hovering aircraft.[2][7]:362–363[10] Although the tsunami disturbed the fishing grounds of the Sentinelese, they appear to have adapted.[11]

On 26 January 2006, two fishermen were killed by Sentinelese when their boat drifted near the island.[12]


Map of the island

Before the 2004 earthquake, North Sentinel Island had about 72 km2 (28 sq mi) and a roughly square outline.[2] There was a narrow beach encircling the island, behind which the ground rose 20 m (66 ft), and then gradually to between 46 m (150 ft)[13]:257 or 122 m (400 ft)[1] near the centre. Reefs extended around the island to between 800 and 1,290 metres (0.5–0.8 mi) from the shore.[1] A forested islet, Constance Island, also "Constance Islet",[1] was located about 600 metres (2,000 ft) off the southeast coastline, at the edge of the reef.

The 2004 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 Island with the main island.[7]:347[11]

Apart from the narrow original beach and the uplifted reefs, the island is densely covered by forest.[2]

Political status[edit]

Since 1947, India has administered the island as part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Union Territory.[14] However, because there has never been any treaty with the people of the island, nor any record of a physical occupation whereby the people of the island have conceded sovereignty, the island exists in a curious state of limbo under established international law and can be seen as a sovereign entity under Indian protection. It is, therefore, one of the de facto autonomous regions of India.

The Andaman and Nicobar Administration has 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.[3]

Census Population estimate[15]:120
1901 117
1911 117
1921 117
1931 80

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "The Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands § 9.8 North Sentinel Island". Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal (PDF). Sailing Directions (Enroute). Pub. 173 (8th ed.). Springfield, Virginia: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. 2014. p. 266. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Weber, George. "Chapter 8: The Tribes; Part 6. The Sentineli". The Andamanese. Archived from the original on 20 May 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Bhaumik, Subir (5 March 2005). "Extinction threat for Andaman natives". 
  4. ^ Weber, George. "Chapter 2: They Call it Home". The Andamanese. Archived from the original on 2 April 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d Goodheart, Adam (Autumn 2000). "The Last Island of the Savages". American Scholar. Archived from the original on September 25, 2012. 
  6. ^ number23 (May 8, 2015). "The Island Tribe Hostile To Outsiders Face Survival Threat". Retrieved 2015-07-24. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Pandya, Vishvajit (2009). In the Forest: Visual and Material Worlds of Andamanese History (1858–2006). Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. ISBN 978-0-7618-4272-9. LCCN 2008943457. OCLC 371672686. OL 16952992W. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Sarkar, Jayanta (1997). "Befriending the Sentinelese of the Andamans: A Dilemma". In Pfeffer, Georg; Behera, Deepak Kumar. Development Issues, Transition and Change. Contemporary Society: Tribal Studies 2. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company. ISBN 81-7022-642-2. LCCN 97905535. OCLC 37770121. OL 324654M. 
  9. ^ McGirk, Tim (10 January 1993). "Islanders running out of isolation: Tim McGirk in the Andaman Islands reports on the fate of the Sentinelese". The Independent (London). 
  10. ^ Buncombe, Andrew (6 February 2010). "With one last breath, a people and language are gone". The New Zealand Herald. The Independent. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  11. ^ a b Weber, George (2009). "The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami". Archived from the original on 16 June 2013. 
  12. ^ Foster, Peter (8 February 2006). "Stone Age tribe kills fishermen who strayed on to island". The Telegraph (London). 
  13. ^ "North Sentinel". The Bay of Bengal Pilot. Admiralty. London: United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. 1887. p. 257. OCLC 557988334. 
  14. ^ Weber, George. "The Andamanese: Chapter 1: Contact". Archived from the original on 2 April 2013. 
  15. ^ Venkateswar, Sita (2004). Erni, Christian; Stidsen, Sille, eds. Development and Ethnocide: Colonial Practices in the Andaman Islands. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. ISBN 87-91563-04-6. ISSN 0105-4503. LCCN 2005419099. OCLC 57255778. OL 5877534W. 

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