It is unknown how many there are and what language they speak

The remote island whose inhabitants do not know the country to which they belong

In the world there are all kinds of inhabited and uninhabited islands, but there is only one inhabited island whose neighbors are unaware of the existence of their country.

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The Milford Sound fjord, the 'eighth wonder of the world' on New Zealand's South Island

In fact, the neighbors of that island not only ignore the existence of their country, but they surely ignore the existence of other countries. It is even possible that the very concept of a country seems strange to them, since they practically live in a situation typical of a prehistoric era in which countries did not exist.

This island is called North Sentinel and legally belongs to India. It is in the Indian Ocean, about 29 kilometers from the Indian Andaman Islands, about 1,300 km from the Indian mainland coast and about 530 km from the Indian Ocean. km off the coast of Burma. The nuance that the island legally belongs to India is necessary, because in practice the laws of that country or those of any other do not apply there. It is possible that the concept of laws is as foreign to them as the concept of a country. To tell the truth, we know very little about the island's inhabitants.

The location, in red, of North Sentinel Island (Image: Google Maps).

Since there is no data on them, it is unknown what language they speak and even how many there are, although some estimates estimate that this island may be inhabited by between 35 and 400 people. North Sentinel has an area of about 60 square kilometers, but most of the island is covered by very thick jungle, so it is difficult to know what is under the trees.

The first time the world learned of the existence of this island was in 1771, when a British ship of the East India Company, the schooner HMS Diligent, approached the island and saw many lights on it. the coast, although its crew did not want to go near to find out who had lit them. In 1867 the ship Nineveh ran aground on a reef on that island. The crew of this merchant ship was attacked by a group of savages who were almost naked and with their bodies painted. A British Navy ship was able to rescue the survivors of the shipwreck, who managed to repel the island's inhabitants.

A photo of North Sentinel taken by the European Space Agency's Proba satellite on April 23, 2005 (Photo: ESA).

After that incident, the British Navy organized an armed expedition to North Sentinel in 1880. Under that dense jungle they found signs of civilization, specifically some towns and roads. They managed to capture six indigenous people: two adults and four children. They were taken to Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, but because they had never been exposed to viruses from outside, the two Adults became ill and died shortly thereafter. The four children also became ill and were returned to the island. Surely that experience did not help the inhabitants of Sentinel have a good opinion of outsiders.

A satellite photo of North Sentinel taken on November 20, 2009 (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory).

During the British colonial period there were more expeditions to that island. As a rule, the inhabitants of Sentinel are very hostile towards strangers and have the habit of killing them. It is the fate of fishermen who came to the island and also a Christian missionary, John Allen Chau, who traveled there in 2018. Curiously, many defenders of illegal immigration justified the missionary's murder, claiming that he should not have ventured there.

An aerial photo of North Sentinel (Photo: Gautam Singh/AP).

In 1956, the Indian government banned all visits to the island and established a 3 nautical mile exclusion zone around its coasts. India periodically patrols the area so that strangers do not come to the island. In 1967, the Indian government organized an armed expedition to the island that found some very rudimentary huts, as well as bows, arrows, fishing nets, wooden buckets and other utensils. They couldn't find any islanders.

In 1974, National Geographic organized another expedition with armed escort, obtaining the first photos of the inhabitants of North Sentinel. There have been more expeditions. In 1991, the Indian anthropologist Trilokinath Pandit achieved the first friendly contact with the islanders, after many years of trying. He and his companions encountered some unarmed men, women and children. As their language is unknown, it was not possible to communicate verbally with them, but they discovered that their songs only have two musical notes and they only know how to count up to two. Unfortunately, after the initial good reception, the traditionally hostile attitude of the islanders reappeared.

One of the first photos of the inhabitants of North Sentinel taken in 1974 by the National Geographic expedition (Photo: Raghubir Singh/National Geographic).

Apart from that 1991 expedition, the North Sentinel islanders only exhibited a peaceful attitude with the aid expeditions organized after the 2004 tsunami. In the first expedition to the island after that catastrophe, which had serious effects on the place, 32 inhabitants were counted from the air in three different locations.

Another of the photos of North Sentinel residents taken in 1974 (Photo: Raghubir Singh/National Geographic).

Today, North Sentinel is still a dangerous place to go and opens the door to some debates: is it legitimate that there are inhabitants of a country who can murder strangers with impunity? Is it ethical to keep isolated a tribe that lives as in prehistory, dying from causes that have an easy remedy today in the rest of the world? On the other hand, there is the dilemma of what consequences the exposure of the islanders to the outside world may have, because the rest of the world is immunized to many diseases that for the inhabitants of North Sentinel can be fatal.

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