Friday, October 1, 2010



Sentinelese –

The Heroes of Andaman



Poachers targeting rich fishing grounds in India’s Andaman Islands are endangering the world’s most isolated tribe.


More than a hundred illegal fishermen from Burma have been arrested in recent weeks. Fourteen were fishing off North Sentinel Island, home to the Sentinelese tribe, who attack anyone approaching their island. Members of the tribe killed two fishermen in 2006.


Burmese and local poachers also threaten the survival of the Jarawa tribe, who have only had contact with outsiders since 1998. A local poacher and a Jarawa man died in a conflict in the Jarawa’s reserve in 2008. The Jarawas denounce poachers who invade their land.


The Indian Coast Guard has announced a series of arrests of more than a hundred Burmese poachers since late August this year, mostly in the vicinity of the Jarawa reserve. However, local poachers are rarely targeted.



Poachers catch turtles and dive for lucrative sea cucumber for the Chinese market, and also hunt in the Jarawa’s forest. Local poachers often enter by the illegal Andaman Trunk Road that cuts through the tribe’s land. Many NGOs like Survival International have repeatedly urged the local authorities to close the road, but it remains open.


Local sources say the scale of the problem is much greater than the recent arrests suggest, with most poachers going undetected. Both the Jarawa and the Sentinelese are hunter-gatherers, and theft of the fish and animals in their territory endangers their food supply. Poachers also risk introducing common diseases to the tribes. The Sentinelese are especially at risk: their complete isolation means they are likely to have no immunity to diseases such as flu and measles.



Survival campaigner Sophie Grig said recently, “The Indian Coast Guard’s recent crackdown shows they are taking the poaching problem seriously, but it also reveals the huge scale of the threat. The Jarawa and the Sentinelese have lived on the Andaman Islands for about 55,000 years, but if this invasion of their territory continues, their days could be numbered.


The Sentinelese are believed to be the World’s Most Isolated Tribe, and have had no contact with outsiders. The neighboring Bo tribe of the Great Andamanese group on the Andaman Islands became extinct in January this year with the death of its last surviving member, Boa Sr.


Boa Sr, the last surviving member of the Bo Tribe, who expired in January this year.


The Sentinelese live on their own small island, North Sentinel, and continue to resist all contact with outsiders, attacking anyone who comes near. They hit the headlines in the wake of the 2004 Tsunami when a member of the tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter.



A Sentinelese man, as seen in the picture above, aimed his bow and arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter as it flew over his island on Dec. 28, 2004, surveying for Tsunami damage. Circumstantial evidence suggests that these indigenous tribes used precious ancient know-how to save themselves from the catastrophic Tsunami.


Like the Jarawa, the Sentinelese hunt and gather in the forest, and fish in the coastal waters. They live in long communal huts with several hearths, and use outrigger canoes to travel the seas around their island.


The Government of India has made several unsuccessful attempts to establish ‘friendly’ contact with the Sentinelese. According to the NGOs, contacting the tribe would almost certainly have tragic consequences, as their isolation makes them very vulnerable to diseases to which they have no immunity. The government now says it will make no further attempt to contact them.


Since the coastal waters around the Jarawa reserve have been so heavily used by poachers, these illegal fishermen are now turning their attention to the waters surrounding North Sentinel. In 2006, members of the Sentinelese tribe killed two fishermen who had illegally approached their island.



The Sentinelese are a real inspiration - Heroes not only of the Andaman Islands, but of the entire Indigenous world. They even seem to be heroes to the mainstream. The amazing photographs in the media of the warriors firing upon a helicopter were meant to elicit pity for the Sentinelese, "left behind" by the modern world.


The articles backfired. Fervent responses from indigenous and non-indigenous readers alike indicated more envy than pity. One reader, claiming to be sick of civilization with nothing but work and bills and sex and worry, said, "I wish I was on the beach with my bow and arrow."


Stats courtesy: Survival International/ Woorama (Suite101)


  1. That was a avery interesting post! So amazing to know that India has such tribes that have resisted the overtures of the 'civilized' world. Like the reader you have quoted there must be millions of people round the globe who envy these real sons of the soil and the original inhabitants of the earth. That they are more in tune with nature is amply illustrated by their survival. Let's pray that good sense prevails and they are spared the ills of the modern world.

  2. amazing piece of information...thank you so much for sharing it!

  3. @Zephyr Thanks for the fervently compassionate thoughts about the heroes of Andaman, dear Zephyr! As dear Rumi said recently, "It's not they who need us; it's us who need them...".

    @The Legend Returns Thank you, dear Maneesh! Hope, you would help spread the word around to as many fora as possible.

  4. Very well written post, Mr Vashistha.
    Indeed what wouldnt I give to be on that island without the crowds, the skyscrapers and roads. Without the bills, the rat race and cars and pollution.
    Breathing fresh air, swimming,cooking fresh fish on a fire and eating wild berries and sleeping under a tree. ahh...

  5. Oh and I am looking into some US AID and grants and will email them to you shortly.
    The key to getting grants for projects is having a darn good presentation of plan of action.

  6. I liked this post very much and I intend to read other posts gradually over a period of time.
    I have never visited the Andamans, but have always been curious about the various tribes which are endangered. Sadly, we read about it in the newspapers when the last person dies or the last native speaker of the language dies.
    It is best to leave the tribes alone and at the same time protect them from poachers.
    Please do continue blogging on the Andamans Sir!! A lot of people would love to keep reading about the Islands!

  7. Shri, you have a very good blog here! Thank u so much for your vote on Indiblogger!!

  8. Such an inspiration to read about these hearty survivors of the nuclear age. Long may they flourish and retain the dignity of their long heritage.

  9. Well so-called civilized human beings always inevitably end up harming valuable natural resources that help sustain life for these tribesmen. A very informative blog post about such a lesser known side of our country!
    Btw sir pls do vote for my Share Life contest entry if you like it. If nothing else.....atleast give the post a read.
    Thank you!

  10. The post made me more and more curious about the tribe and their life. I also wish they would be preserved in their original state always :)

  11. @Travel Bug
    Thanks a ton, dear Rumi, for the kind eulogy accompanied with a spontaneous flow of peerless reverie that was irresistible indeed. So right, you are...

    And yes, please, do keep me posted about the US AID and grants that you were looking into. I would be pretty grateful to you if some such support can be generated for the much-needed causes of these islands' multipronged vulnerability with your humane support.

    @The Silence Within
    Thanks for breaking "The silence within", dear friend! :-) And thanks for all the kind words about the blog and the appreciable expression of solidarity with the natives, too. This is what makes it even more enriching an experience for me to keep blogging about my exemplary domicile. Continue, I will, for sure... Cheers! :-)

    Oh, anytime, dear Pallavi! Being an Indiblogger myself, I reckon it a duty to support and encourage anything creative, qualitative and constructive that comes up from your end. Keep up the good work. :-)

    @nothing profound
    Thanks very much for your fervent response, yet again, my friend! Hope, you've been doing good. Nice to see you after quite some time here. See ya back soon... Cheers! :-)

    That's pretty rightly commented, dear Samadrita! And, in fact, I had already voted for your good post before and have now shared my views up there, too. Thank you & good luck for the contest! Hope you don't be a miser after you've won it and do come up with a due treat... Cheers! ;-))

    @We Cognize
    Thanks indeed for sharing your humane thoughts, dear Niharika! Loved to see you here after quite some time. Your love and passion for humanitarian and environmental causes is constantly reflected in all your posts at Facebook, too. God bless! :-)