The North Sentinel Islands are illegal to visit, and if you break the rules, you might not live to tell the story.

Sara B
Tribesmen on North Sentinel Island take aim at an Indian Coast Guard helicopterPhoto byINDIAN COAST GUARD/FAIR USE

The North Sentinel Islands are part of the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal and under Indian territory. It is home to the indigenous Sentinelese people.

The Sentinelese have chosen to live in isolation and want nothing to do with the rest of the world. It is still being determined how many Sentinelese exist; some say it could be between 40 and 400, but there is no way to determine an accurate number. No one is permitted on the island under Indian Law, and the Navy enforces the laws.

The Sentinelese people are some of the last remaining groups to remain virtually untouched and uncontacted. They live as hunters and gatherers; the Sentinelese people are believed to live on the island for more than 60,000 years.

Anthropologists believe that the Sentinelese have yet to learn how to make fire, grow crops, read or write. The only advancements they may have been using the metal from ships that have crashed on the shores to make weapons. They violently reject contact with the outside world. However, many have attempted and failed.

The earliest mention of the North Sentinel Island was in 1771 when a British ship, the Diligent, passed by the island. John Ritchie, the surveyor, noted the ¨multitude of lights¨. However, the boat did not stop at the island.

Then in 1867, an Indian merchant ship, the Nineveh, crashed near the island, and the crew escaped to the island for safety. Except, it was not safe, and on the third day they were on the island it was reported that they were attacked; the ship's captain described them as:

"perfectly naked, with short hair and red painted noses and shooting iron-tipped arrows at them¨.

The crew held them off long enough and was rescued by a Royal naval ship.

Also, in 1867 Jeremiah Homfray visited the island in search of escaped prisoners from Andaman Island. Still, all he saw were the Sentinelese fishing with bows and arrows, and they turned around.

The island's next visitor might be the reason that the island got even more hostile. In 1880 Maurice Vidal Portman, a British naval officer, led a group to the north of the island. He and his group were on the island for a few days before seeing a person.

However, that lasted only a short time, soon; he came upon 6 Sentinelese. Two elderly and four children, he took them to the mainland, and the two elderly died. He then brought back the four children to the island. He sent them back with gifts and possibly disease.

He frequently visited between 1885-1887; however, the Sentinelese would become more aggressive toward him. Eventually, he stopped.

Since the time of Portman, the Sentinelese have slowly grown more aggressive towards outsiders. In 1896, an Indian convict escaped from Port Blair and found the north Sentinel Island; when the Indian authorities found him, he was dead on the beach, found pierced with arrows.

However, the next recording contact was in 1967; the Indian government organized its first expedition to the North Sentinel Island, led by anthropologist Triloknath Pandit. According to Pandit, when they first attempted to contact the Sentinelese, they hid in the jungle and, on subsequent trips, shot at them with arrows. Yet each trip, they would leave items as gifts to build relationships and get contact.

"We had brought in gifts of pots and pans, large quantities of coconuts, iron tools like hammers and long knives. We had also taken along with us three Onge men (another local tribe) to help us 'interpret' the Sentinelese speech and behaviour,"

Pandit and his group did not make the first contact until 1991, when the tribe came out and met them peacefully and approached them in the ocean. The group was not permitted to enter the island.

In 1997 the Indian government stopped all expeditions to the island for fear of the introduction of disease to the island's people and the risk of being attacked by the Sentinelese. The island was unsafe to visit, as outsiders and to those who inhabited the island.

The Indian government also banned all travel to the island and did not permit anyone within three miles of the island. The Indian Navy enforces the rules.

When a helicopter was sent to check on the Sentinelese after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, the aircraft was warned by a man threatening to attack the helicopter with a bow.

In 2006 two fishermen were illegally fishing and went too close to the island; the Sentinelese archers killed both fishermen. The aircraft that went to retrieve the two men also came under attack.

The last person who was known to attempt to make contact was John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old from the US to spread Christianity to the Sentinelese in 2018. He had a vision that it was his job to save the souls of the Sentinelese Tribe. Not only did John break the laws to travel to this island, but he also did not make it out alive. His body was buried on the island by the Sentinelese.

There have been no other attempts made that I have found, and if there are I doubt they would be around to tell us the story.

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I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news. Living nomadically since 2018, currently in Colombia.

Pasadena, CA

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