North Sentinel Island: One of the most dangerous islands in the world

The story of the American John Chau went around the world: The 27-year-old wanted to proselytise the natives of an island east of India to the Christian faith – and died in a cruel manner. What is it about North Sentinel Island and its inhabitants, the sentilese?

There are hardly any human-inhabited places as cut off from civilization as the North Sentinel Island on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Little is known about the island belonging to the Andaman Islands . And there is a good reason for that: The sentilesen, estimated to number about 50, refuse any contact with the outside world. Those approaching their homeland are in acute danger to their lives. This was recently made clear by the John Chau case . Despite strict prohibitions, the American ventured to travel to the island – and, according to eyewitnesses, died in a hail of arrows. An equally cruel and expectable incident.

Prohibitions for mutual protection

Colonial officials, explorers, or, as in the recent case, daring adventurers – those who want to set foot on North Sentinel Island have to reckon with very aggressive natives. Since the end of the 19th century there have been repeated attempts to enter into peaceful exchange with the people. With a few exceptions, everyone failed. The sentilese are threatened by anything foreign, which is why the state of India has passed a law that prohibits anyone from approaching the islands. And that too for the protection of the inhabitants. Since they live completely isolated for over 60,000 years, visitors could lure supposedly harmless diseases, to which the sentimental immune system has no answer.

These circumstances make North Sentinel Island one of the last great secrets on the earth’s surface. Until the culture and way of life of the sentilese can be explored, decades, centuries or even millennia should pass. Until then, the island in the Bay of Bengal remains one thing above all else: one of the most dangerous places in the world.