The Peculiar Truth about North Sentinel Island
- In the eastern region of the Bay of Bengal lies the Andaman Islands. The archipelago runs north to south like a mountain chain. Though they’re closer geographically to Myanmar, the islands are under the jurisdiction of India.
- Toward the southern base of the archipelago is an island 22 miles west of its nearest neighbor — North Sentinel Island.
- The jungle island is only 23 square miles, roughly the size of Manhattan, though differently shaped. Reefs surround its coastline making it difficult for ships to approach.
- The natives who live there, the Sentinelese, have been cut off from the modern world ever since they were discovered in the 1700s.
- They are hunter gatherers in loin cloths, or naked, who have killed outsiders who try to land on their shore.
- No one is entirely sure how many people inhabit the island. The estimates go as high as 400 and as low as 15.
- No one understands their language.
- No one knows exactly what plants or animals are on the island, but it’s believed to have wild boar.
- Andaman Island laws prohibit anyone from coming within five miles of the shoreline, and Indian naval boats patrol the waters to prevent intruders.
- Any outsiders who visit the island risk exposing the natives to diseases from which they have no natural immunity.
- The Indian government leaves the Sentinelese alone and has even turned a blind eye when the natives have killed visitors. Murders have occurred several times in the past fifty years or more.
- The most recent incident took place in 2018 and created international headlines.
- A misguided 26-year-old American missionary named John Chau reached shore unlawfully. He paid two fishermen to repeatedly ferry him to the island.
- The Oral Roberts University graduate had a goal — to proselytize to the natives. He wanted to introduce them to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Even though the Sentinelese don’t understand English or any other language.
- Chau made multiple trips. On the first visit, he offered gifts, but the Sentinelese threatened him.
- For his second trip, he took with him a waterproof Bible. He sang gospel tunes to the tribesmen, which they laughed at. Attempts at communication failed.
- Then a native shot an arrow into Chau’s Bible as he held it out in front of his chest. The American escaped.
- He didn’t take the hint, though. On his last visit, Chau told the fishermen that he intended to stay. He gave them his diary with instructions where to send it. The fishermen warned against staying but left him on the island anyway.
- They later saw the Sentinelese dragging Chau’s body across the beach.
- The missionary was never seen again.
- Authorities tried to find Chau or his remains but gave up for fear of infecting or angering the natives.
- No charges have ever been filed. Except against the fishermen. They were arrested for aiding Chau.
- North Sentinel Island remains off limits. Anyone who trespasses does so illegally and at the risk of their own life.
Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five. He publishes ‘The Peculiar Truth’ every Tuesday.
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