Deep in the Bay of Bengal, somewhere between Indonesia and India, is a heavily-jungled island roughly 20% larger than Manhattan, New York. Canopy forests circled by large sandy beaches, this mysterious place has no natural harbors, is completely surrounded by ship-disintegrating coral reefs, and has been almost completely untouched by human civilization sinec the dawn of mankind. To this day, it is illegal for anyone to set foot on this ultra-remote would-be paradise – the Coast Guard of India maintains a 3-mile cordon around the island.
This cordon is there for your protection. Because while this miniscule speck of land in the Indian Ocean may appear to be completely uninhabited, it is in fact home to one of the last civilizations on earth about which we know absolutely fucking nothing.
This is North Sentinel Island. And the tribal people that live there have a long-standing policy – if you set foot on our island, we will kill the shit out of you, slit your throat, dump your corpse on the beach, and then disappear into the jungle. We don't negotiate. We don't make friends. We don't make treaties. We defend our fucking island to the death.
To this day, in the Golden Age of Google Maps and Other Crazy Satellite Robot Drone Shit, the only photographs you will ever see of the North Sentinelese people were taken either from an aircraft or a boat. There is no living person on the planet right now who has set foot in those jungles and lived to tell the tale. Not only can we not decipher their spoken language, but it bears no resemblance to any spoken language of any civilization in existence. These loinclothed tribesmen have very dark skin, leading some anthropologists to believe that they are of African descent, but how the fuck they got to the Bay of Bengal is a complete mystery. We have never taken a DNA sample of a tribesperson, so we have no clue what their genetic lineage might be.
What we do know is that these hardcore pipe-hittin' ass-stompers are resourceful, tough, ingenuitive, and hard as yesterday’s fucking meatloaf, and they respond to any attempts at pussy shit like negotiations and friendly neighborliness by charging screaming out to the beach in He-Man loincloths and ripping off a hail of murderous arrows from 8-foot-tall longbows that they can fire with deadly sniper accuracy. We think there are somewhere between 50 and 400 of them, but we don’t know because no satellite imagery can see through the canopy jungle on the heart of the island. They have no agriculture that we know of. We know they gather coconuts on the beach, go fishing in wooden canoes, and friggin’ spear-hunt for turtles, birds, and goddamn wild warthogs. They can’t create fire, but they can use it. They haven’t invented oars (they use long poles to push their canoes along), but – get this – they fucking created iron-tipped arrows by hacking off scrap metal from a goddamn British ship that wrecked there in 1981.
This photo was taken from a helicopter
as it was being attacked by the tribesmen.
Despite being completely untouched by the outside world for something like 60,000 years or some shit, the Sentinelese have a long and glorious history of being badass as hell and scaring the ever-lovin' piss out of everyone who dared set eyes on North Sentinel Island. Back in the 2nd century AD, the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy mentioned an “island of cannibals” in the Bay of Bengal that may have been North Sentinel. According to him, the men who lived there brutally murdered anyone who approached them, then cut up and ate their bodies to prevent these unwanted outsiders from coming back to life as zombies. That’s some forward-thinking shit right there – these guys were fighting World War Z when the rest of the world was beating rocks together. The next time we hear about them is 1,100 years later (!), when Marco Polo describes them as a bunch of psychotic headhunting cannibals who could not be reasoned with. Neither of these descriptions sounded particularly appealing to adventurers, so North Sentinel went untouched for the next five hundred years, because, sure, sounds good to me. In 1771 a British East India Company ship surveyed the island, dubbing it “North Sentinel” (we have no idea what the actual inhabitants call the place, because every time we try to talk to them they attempt to shiv us), and even though they saw fires on the beach the Brits wisely chose not to dock there.
Nobody else stopped near the island again until 1867, when the Indian ship Nineveh shipwrecked on the beach after a storm. They were immediately attacked by a swarm of tribal warriors. Several people were killed, and the crew was only able to survive after fighting the attackers off with swords and guns.
The British colonized the nearby Andaman Island chain in the 17th century, setting it up as an Australia-style penal colony where badass shit went down like prisoner deathmatches and other sci-fi dystopian future awesomeness. Well, one day in 1896, a convict on the Andaman colony escaped, fashioned a boat like some kind of El Chapo Bear Grylls, and rowed that shit over to North Sentinel. The British would discover his mutilated corpse unceremoniously discarded on North Sentinel's beach a few weeks later – his throat had been slit, and his entire body was covered in dozens of puncture wounds from arrows and spears.
But the craziest thing about the North Sentinels is that most of the badass crap these guys did takes place in the last 40 years. Like, for instance in 1974, an enterprising film crew from National Geographic showed up on ultra-modern speedboats to try and capture footage of these mysterious tribesmen in action. The idealistic crew sped up to the beach, jumped out into the surf, walked on up to the beach like they owned the place, and delicately set down a few peace offerings – a pack of coconuts, a baby doll, and a live pig.
The Sentinelese showed up almost immediately. Fully armed.
The fucking National Geographic director took an arrow to the knee, a wound that probably put his adventuring days to an end, and he and the rest of his crew bolted outta there. As they sailed away, they saw the Sentinelese destroy all the lame peace offerings (including the pig), smash them to shit, and bury the wreckage in the sand.
The dude who had fired the arrow spent most of the time pointing and laughing at the idiots running for their lives. This was basically PWNED when the rest of the world was still PONG.
It gets better.
In 1981, a Hong Kong freighter, the Primrose, ran aground on one of the reefs a few hundred yards off the coast of North Sentinel. After a day or two of nothing, the crew were alarmed to see tribesmen assembling on the beach. In full war paint. The tribesmen chopped down some trees, and began working on a terrifying project.
The crew of Primrose sent out a distress signal: “Wild men, estimate more than 50, carrying various homemade weapons are making two or three wooden boats… worrying they will board us at sunset. All crew members’ lives not guaranteed”.
The Primrose’s crew spent the next two days fending off attacks by using two flare guns, one pistol and a couple firefighting axes. They were evacuated by helicopter as the Sentinelese swarmed the ship. After looting the contents, the Sentinelese began chipping pieces off the iron hull and using the chunks as iron-tipped arrowheads.
The ship is still visible on Google Maps to this day:
Only been two people have ever had any success making headway with this civilization of awesome post-Stone Age badassitude. The first was a British officer named Maurice Portman, who landed on the island with a heavily-armed expedition way back in 1880. After a few days of searching the island, he found absolutely nobody. They'd all bolted in the face of superior opposition, choosing to bide their time rather than fight a battle they might not win. Eventually, after days, Portman came across six people – two elderly people and four children. He took them back to the Andaman colony to research them, but the elderly couple died of disease almost immediately, so Portman just said fuck it and brought the kids back home.
The other person is Indian researcher T.N. Pandit, who is the world’s foremost expert on the Sentinelese. After studying them for over 20 years, Pandit started making journeys to the island in the early 1990s, leaving a bunch of coconuts on the beach, and then sailing away. Any time he saw people on the beach, they either shot arrows at him, waved their dicks at the boat (yeah, no kidding), or bent over and pretended to take a shit (to show Pandit what they thought of his presence there).
Finally, one time in 1991, the tribespeople stopped threatening him with their dicks and instead came out to the boat. Pandit got out and handed the tribesmen coconuts, but as soon as the boat started to drift away from the island the tribespeople all fucking pulled knives and made it very clear that he better not plan on staying there or they were gonna shank the fuck out of him. He scrambled back to the boat and got the hell out of there. As he left, an arrow landed in his boat. But this one had no arrowhead – it was a warning shot. It’s meaning was clear: Don’t come back.
Still photo from a video taken by T.N. Pandit in 1991.
This is the best thing we’ve got on these people.
After Pandit’s adventure, the Indian Navy set up a cordon around the island and declared it illegal under Indian law for any person to ever visit there for any reason. Partly this was for the protection of the Sentinelese – exposure to the outside world would expose them to any number of lethal diseases and wipe out their population. But it was also for the protection of everyone else in the world as well, as two idiot poachers found out in 2006.
On January 26, 2006, two drunk fishermen were out hunting for mud crabs when their boat accidentally drifted into a reef off North Sentinel. When the Indian Coast Guard sent a helicopter to investigate, they found the dead bodies of both fishermen dumped into shallow graves on the beach.
When the helicopter – a modern, 2006 Coast Guard helicopter – tried to land to recover the dead bodies, the Sentinelese fucking charged out of the forest and launched arrows at spears at it until the pilot was like fuck this and got the hell outta there.
Here’s a good example of how awesome these people are – in 2004 that huge tsunami ripped through the Bay of Bengal and annihilated everything in its path. Most people thought the Sentinelese were probably all going to be completely wiped off the map, but they weren’t. Crazier than that, it kind of looks like maybe they might have actually reloacated to higher ground just before the tsunami, like they somehow predicted it, or sensed it coming, or something.
The tsunami devastated the island, but not the population. The people adapted. Hell, the tidal wave obliterated the lagoon where the Sentinelese did most of their fishing, but they just figured out a way to work around it, and within a few days and everything was fine.
Not only that, but, in true North Sentinelese fasion, when the Indian Red Cross landed helicopters on the island to deliver aid relief and medical supplies, the Sentinelese attacked them, wounding the chopper pilot in the leg with a gigantic arrow and driving the aid workers off in terror.
This island kicks ass.