The Sentinelese are a “lost tribe”, one of a handful of indigenous groups scattered over the world that refuse to get with the program. Are these people the most isolated tribe in the world? It seemed inconceivable, above all, that the Sentinelese islanders could have survived, living as they did on a remote island directly in the tsunami’s path.Yet when a helicopter flew low over the island, a Sentinelese man rushed out on to the beach, aiming his arrow at the pilot in a gesture that clearly said, ‘We don’t want you here’. Alone of the tens of millions of people affected by the disaster, the Sentinelese needed no help from anyone. Perhaps no people on Earth remain more genuinely isolated than the Sentinelese.
They are thought to be directly descended from the first human populations to emerge from Africa, and have probably lived in the Andaman Islands for up to 60,000 years. The fact that their language is so different even from other Andaman islanders suggests that they have had little contact with other people for thousands of years.
Pressure from Survival and other organisations has led the Indian government to alter its policy towards the Sentinelese, from attempting to make contact, to recognising that similar policies have proved disastrous for other Andaman tribes, and accepting that they have the right to decide for themselves how they wish to live. Underpinning this shift is the simple acknowledgment that the people themselves are best placed to decide what is in their own interests.