People often say that the world is getting smaller. In today’s post-colonial, neo-liberal age it does seem as though the remote and the exotic places are harder and harder to get to. With the internet and other forms of digital communication being so commonplace, it’s never been easier to contact foreign cultures and converse with people on the other side of the planet. Almost everywhere has been explored and almost everything has been charted.
The last blank spaces on the map have been filled. What’s more, there’s seemingly nowhere left on Earth that doesn’t boast a Starbucks and a gift shop. The wilderness has only gotten harder to find. Despite all this, there are still some secluded corners of the globe that have remained well and truly uncharted.
There are places that the bravest and best-equipped explorers fear to tread, where tribes of people who have never had contact with the outside world live in the wild. For countless generation these hidden cultures have lived as simplistically as the cavemen of the earlier ice ages.
In 2013, an issue of New Scientist estimated that there were more than 100 self-sufficient, un-contacted tribes living in various regions of the world. Most of these tribes survive in the densely forested areas of South America, Central Africa, India and New Guinea.
There are many different reasons why an indigenous group would choose to become severely isolationist. Culture, geography and superstition all play a part in the attitudes of these tribes. Rebecca Spooner, an advocate working for Survival International, an organisation based in London that fights for the rights of indigenous peoples, believes that many such tribes are driven to xenophobia due to exploitation and violence from the developed world.
For example, the Mashco-Piro tribe of hunter-gatherers, who live in the forests of Manú National Park in Peru, voluntarily withdrew from contact with the outside world in the late 19th century, after they were persecuted and killed by the private army of rubber merchant Carlos Fitzcarrald. Now the International Work Group For Indigenous Affairs estimates that there are only approximately 200 of the Mashco-Piro left, and the Peruvian government has banned contact with them for fear that disease could kill them off for good.
As a result of the risks that the developed world poses these tribes, most of our theories about how these people live and the minutiae of their culture is based on speculation and educated guesswork. Contact with these tribes is rare and photographic or video footage is even rarer still… which is why the internet has been left stunned by this incredible footage of what might well be the world’s most secluded tribe.
Off the coast of India on North Sentinel Island, the Sentilese people have dwelt since time immemorial, fiercely guarding their homeland from outsiders. Now the YouTube channel LoveBite Productions has compiled a number of clips of sightings of the Sentilese, some tantalising, other terrifying.
The Sentilese people are one of the last indigenous groups left on the earth to resist contact with any other civilisation, and have only been glimpsed fleetingly by anthropologists and other explorers. Those who have gotten closer to them have not lived to tell the tale, as the Sentilese are notoriously hostile and suspicious of outsiders. The tribe survives through hunting game, fishing and picking fruit, and from what little we have observed of them, it seems that they have not learned basic agriculture.
It has been estimated that their population could range from anywhere between 50 and 500 individuals, but attempts to establish a more definite figure have been frustrated by the tribe’s extreme aggression. In 2006 two sleeping fishermen were killed by the Sentilese for coming too close to their island, and when the coast guard sent out rescue helicopters to find the missing men they shot arrows at the aircraft. The Indian government has since banned its citizens from straying within five kilometres of North Sentinel Island, and Survival International has recently convinced them to make no further attempts to contact the Sentilese.
The Sentilese live in rough, communal dwellings constructed from wood and palm trees, and have little to no smelting or metallurgical ability. They have managed to scavenge metal and plastic flotsam which has washed up on the shore, and when two shipping containers ran aground on the island in the 1980’s, the Sentilese looted the materials to fashion tools out of. The Sentilese are capable of creating canoes, weaving baskets, fletching arrows and bows and harpoons for hunting, and have been known to gather honey from beehives.
In March 1970, the Indian anthropologist Triloknath Pandit described an eyewitness encounter with the Sentilese, stating:
“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. 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.”
For these isolated tribes, the appearance of another race of human being is something shocking and momentous, even more incredible than our technology or knowledge.