Sentinelese in India

Map Source:  People Group Location: Omid. Other geography / data: GMI. Map Design: Joshua Project
People Name: Sentinelese
Country: India
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 300
World Population: 300
Primary Language: Sentinel
Primary Religion: Unknown
Christian Adherents: 0.00 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Translation Started
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: No
People Cluster: South Asia Tribal - other
Affinity Bloc: South Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Sentinelese may be the most isolated people group in the world. It is not clear how many Sentinelese there are. Estimates range from 15 to 500, but probably a more reasonable range is from 100 to 200.

Though North Sentinel Island is one of the Adaman and Nicobar Islands, they do not interact with any other tribes in the region. They are adverse to anyone trespassing on their land. So adverse, in fact, that they often shoot arrows at those who would try to land there. In 1867, a merchant ship, the Nineveh, ran into the reef. The crew were able to fend of their attacks. A convict from the British penal colony on Great Andaman Island escaped to the island in 1896, only to be killed by their arrows. In 2006, they killed two Indian fishermen whose anchor failed, allowing them to drift too closely to the island. In 2018, they shot and killed John Chau, a 26-year-old American who attempted to share the gospel with them.

There have been several instances of contact with the group that did not end fatally. National Geographic filmed a documentary on the island, bringing armed guards to ensure the safety of the crew. They brought gifts, including a doll and a toy car. Government anthropologists such as Madhumala Chattopadhyay and Triloknath Pandit visited every three or four years beginning in 1967. Mrs. Chattopadhyay was the first woman outsider to visit the island and had physical contact with the group. Mr. Pandit and his team brought them candy, cloth, pigs and coconuts. In 1991, his team of twenty, including armed guards, was excited at having been able to touch and be touched by the islanders. A video exists of one of these encounters where the team offers coconuts and invites them to their boat, using words from a nearby tribal language. Mr. Pandit claims to have lost several pair of glasses when the islanders have stripped him of his clothing.

Shortly after this last physical encounter, contact with the group was prohibited by the Indian government in order to protect the tribe from disease. Mr. Pandit says, "The government has to make sure they're not harmed, and that they don't die from imported diseases." In response to John Chau's death, Mr. Pandit said, "We should respect their wish to be left alone." Still, he says he hopes some day to visit the island again and leave more coconuts, explaining, "We can't leave them forever."

Where Are they Located?

They live in the North Sentinel island of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

What Are Their Lives Like?

They live in the forest that covers the island and hunt, gather, and fish. Their diet includes seafood such as crabs. They eat wild honey, nuts, fruit and raw animal meat. There appears to be no agriculture among them. Their houses are large, having no side walls or decorative materials. They wear almost no clothing with the exception of some headbands and ornaments. During hunting they wear leaves and belts as protection, and they use javelins and flat bows and arrows as weapons. Music, dancing and celebrations are known to be part of their culture.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Nothing is known of Sentinelese beliefs. It is thought that they, like nearby islanders, are animists who believe in one god, but also in lesser spirits.

Prayer Points

Pray that the tribe would be protected from natural disasters. The tsunami of 2004 could have devastated them, but they were able to find shelter. Throughout history, isolated tribes have often held beliefs that parallel stories from the Bible or that predict the coming of the message of Jesus Christ. Pray the Sentinelese would come to follow God even as they are cut off from his messengers. Pray for the health of the islanders, who live without the benefit of modern medicine.

Text Source:   Joshua Project