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Total population

approx. 250 (median estimate)
2001 Census: 39 (official, but incomplete, count)

Regions with significant populations
exclusively on North Sentinel Island (India)
Sentinelese language, unclassified, but generally assumed to be one of the Andamanese languages
unknown. Apparently limited ritual activity.
Related ethnic groups
unknown, most likely other indigenous Andamanese peoples, such as the Onge

The Sentinelese (also Sentineli, Senteneli, Sentenelese, North Sentinel Islanders) are one of the Andamanese indigenous peoples of the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal. They inhabit North Sentinel Island which lies westwards off the southern tip of the Great Andaman archipelago. They are noted for vigorously resisting attempts of contact by outsiders. By their long-standing separation from any other human society they are the most isolated and unassimilated people on Earth. Their social practices have been almost entirely free of external influence since the end of slave trading three centuries ago.


[edit] Population

The present population of the Sentinelese is not known with any great degree of accuracy, and estimates have been produced ranging from a low of fewer than 40, through to a median of around 250, and up to a maximum of 500. In the 2001 Census of India, officials recorded 39 individuals[1] (21 males and 18 females); however, out of necessity this survey was conducted from a distance[2] and almost certainly does not represent an accurate figure for the population who range over the 72-km² island. Any medium– or long–term impact on the Sentinelese population arising from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and resulting tsunami remains unknown, other than the confirmation obtained that they had survived the immediate aftermath.

On previous visits, groups of some 20-40 individuals were encountered, and habitations of 40-60 individuals were found on two occasions; the latter probably is a better approximation of group size as some individuals are almost certainly hiding out of sight any time the Sentinelese are encountered by outsiders; this would suggest that some 2-6 groups occupy the island. The rule-of-thumb population density of 1.5 km²/individual in comparable hunter-gatherer societies indicates that one such group could live off the land alone, but a significant amount of food is derived from the sea, and the groups encountered at any one time could only have come from a rather small part of the island. There appear to be slightly more males than females, but this is probably due to observer bias. At any given time, about half of the couples seemed to have dependent children or the women were pregnant.

[edit] Characteristics

The Sentinelese and other indigenous Andamanese peoples are frequently described as negritos, which has been applied to variously widely-separated peoples in Southeast Asia, such as the Semang of the Malay archipelago and the Aeta of the Philippines, as well as sometimes to other peoples as far afield as South America and Australia. The defining characteristics of these 'negrito' peoples (which are not a monophyletic group) include a comparatively short stature, dark skin and "peppercorn" hair, qualities also found commonly across the continent of Africa. The Sentinelese themselves appear however to be markedly taller on average than other Andamanese peoples, being somewhat above average human size in males (1.85 m/6 ft) and of average size in females (1.6 m/5.4 ft).

[edit] Material culture

Most of what is known about Sentinelese material culture is based on observations made by a late 20th century period of contact attempts.

The Sentinelese maintain an essentially hunter-gatherer society, obtaining their subsistence through hunting, fishing, and collecting wild plants; there is no evidence of any agricultural practices among them.

Their dwellings are either shelter-type huts with no side walls and a floor sometimes laid out with leaves, which provide enough space for a nuclear family of 3 or 4 and their belongings, or larger communal dwellings which may be some dozen square metres and are more elaborately constructed, with raised floors and partitioned family quarters.

It is frequently asserted that they rely upon natural events such as lightning strikes to obtain fire, but it is not known whether they also manufacture it; certainly, the earliest reports of these people have recorded that they maintain campfires on a nightly basis. Neither the presumably related Onge nor Jarawa know how to start a fire themselves[citation needed]. Advanced metalwork is unknown, as raw materials on the island are found to be extremely rare. However, it has been observed that they have made adroit use of metal materials which have washed up or been left behind on their shores, having some ability at cold smithing and sharpening iron and incorporating it into weapons and other items. For example, in the late 1980s two international container ships ran aground on the island's external coral reefs, and the Sentinelese retrieved several items of iron from the vessels.[3]

Sentinelese wear no clothes, but utilize leaves, fibre strings or similar material as decorations, and they fashion belts which are apparently worn to provide some protection to the groin during potentially dangerous activity such as hunting or when encountering potentially hostile strangers.

Their weaponry consists of javelins, and an excellent flatbow with high accuracy against human-sized targets up to nearly 100 metres. At least 3 varieties of arrows, apparently for fishing and hunting, and untipped ones for shooting warning shots, have been documented. Fishing arrows have a number of forward-pointing prongs, and hunting arrows have ovoid arrowheads, with bodkin-type tips for both purposes, the latter two as well as their associated barbs below the tip made from iron. The arrows are over one metre (4 ft) long. The harpoon- or javelin-type arrows are nearly half again as long, slightly longer than the bows (over 5 ft), and can also be thrown or used for stabbing, but the latter probably only rarely.

For procuring large fish, a harpoon is used which is similar in design to the fishing arrows, but nearly 2.5 metres (8 ft) long. Knives are also known, but it is unclear the extent to which the Sentinelese fashion them themselves.

Known tools include adzes, pounding and smithing stones, and various finely- or coarsely-woven baskets for small-grained or larger goods as well as bamboo and wooden containers. Fires are maintained as embers inside dwellings, possibly assisted by resin torches. There exist fishing nets and basic outrigger canoes used for fishing and collecting shellfish from the lagoon but not for open-sea excursions.

Food consists primarily of plantstuffs gathered in the forest, coconuts which are frequently found on the beaches as flotsam and which appear to be much relished, and pigs and presumably other wildlife (which apart from sea turtles is limited to some smaller birds and invertebrates). Wild honey is known to be collected and the Sentinelese use a kind of rake to pull down branches for gathering fruit or nuts, such as sapodilla and pandanus.

[edit] Language and social practices

Virtually nothing is known of the Sentinelese language, and no word lists or language samples have been collected by researchers. It is presumably an Andamanese language, but how closely it may be related to other languages of that family is unknown.

They are actively hostile to unknown intruders requiring frequent shows of peaceful intent before allowing outsiders to come into arrow range. Attempts to leave them material goods from the late 1960s have resulted in household ware and metal objects being utilized, coconuts being eaten but not planted (no local population of Cocos nucifera appeared to exist before the planting of saplings in 1987), pigs are not eaten but shot and buried, as was a doll. Red buckets were taken with apparent delight, while green ones were rejected.

A strategy that resulted in possibilities for close-quarter observation was that after an initial period of some 10 years, repeated dropping of material, chiefly coconuts, were deposited on deserted stretches of beach. Groups approaching to pick up the goods being monitored and censused from a safe distance, breaking off contact when the Sentinelese indicated they wished so by presenting their weapons and mock aiming at the contact party. Face-to-face contact was discontinued in the 1990s; more recent observations have been from a longer distance or from the air.

Sentinelese have been observed to engage in impromptu musical, dancing and rhythmic performance as a sign of joy and exhilaration. A curious incident occurred on March 29, 1970, when a research party of Indian anthropologists which included T.N. Pandit[4] found themselves cornered on the reef flats between North Sentinel and Constance Island. An eyewitness recorded the following from his vantage point on a boat lying off the beach:

Quite a few discarded their weapons and gestured to us to throw the fish. The women came out of the shade to watch our antics...A few men came and picked up the fish. They appeared to be gratified, but there did not seem to be much softening to their hostile attitude...They all began shouting some incomprehensible words. We shouted back and gestured to indicate that we wanted to be friends. The tension did not ease. At this moment, a strange thing happened - a woman paired off with a warrior and sat on the sand in a passionate embrace. This act was being repeated by other women, each claiming a warrior for herself, a sort of community mating, as it were. Thus did the militant group diminish. This continued for quite some time and when the tempo of this frenzied dance of desire abated, the couples retired into the shade of the jungle. However, some warriors were still on guard. We got close to the shore and threw some more fish which were immediately retrieved by a few youngsters. It was well past noon and we headed back to the ship...[5]

The same expedition noted among the items of a settlement a rectangular board which looked like an 8 x 8 square-chessboard; the origin and significance of this object is unknown but the Onge and Jarawa do not have boardgames.

Pig skulls are deposited in quantities near settlements, or are decorated with ochre and are kept for trophies. Items of red colour, as noted above, seem to be popular and/or significant; the Sentinelese apparently utilize a red dye for fibre-string ornaments on occasion. Artwork appears to be unknown except for simple but pleasing linear patterns applied to bows and javelins.

Ritual practices remain all but unknown. Dead infants are apparently buried in graves on which a nautilus shell and smaller seashells are placed. Next to the embers maintained in the dwellings, a stick roughly resembling a five-fingered hand is stuck in the ground upright; this perhaps has some cultic significance, but nothing further is known about it.

[edit] Contemporary situation

Their island is nominally part of and administered by the Indian Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands; however, in practice the Sentinelese exercise complete autonomy over their affairs and the involvement of the Indian authorities is restricted to occasional monitoring, even more infrequent and brief visits, and generally discouraging any access or approaches to the island. It is, therefore, one of the de facto autonomous regions of India.

From 1967 on the Indian authorities in Port Blair embarked on a programme of official but limited attempts at contacting the Sentinelese, under the auspices of the Director of Tribal Welfare and anthropologist T. N. Pandit. These "Contact Expeditions" consisted of a series of planned visits which would progressively leave "gifts", such as coconuts, on the shores, in an attempt to coax the Sentinelese from their customary hostile reception of outsiders. For a while these seemed to have some limited success; however the programme was discontinued in the late 1990s following a series of hostile encounters resulting in several deaths in a similar programme practiced with the Jarawa people of South and Middle Andaman Islands and because of the danger of introducing diseases. The Sentinelese remain skeptical and generally hostile to any approaches from outsiders.

In 2006, Sentinelese archers killed two fishermen who were fishing illegally within range of the island, and drove off the helicopter that was sent to retrieve their bodies with a hail of arrows.[6] To this date, their bodies remain unrecovered.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Indian Census
  2. ^ as noted in description text on 29 April 2005 image, North Sentinel Island, European Space Agency
  3. ^ Master Plan 1991-2021 for Welfare of Primitive Tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Sec. II Ch. 21. Dept. of Tribal Welfare, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Administration; as reproduced in Andaman Book
  4. ^ Noted researcher on the Andamanese and later to become Director of the Anthropological Survey of India
  5. ^ Quotation reproduced in Chapter 12, The Andamanese (Weber n.d.). The original attribution for the quote is not provided.
  6. ^ "Stone Age tribe kills fishermen" The Sydney Morning Herald

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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