If someones tells you not to do something there’s a good chance you’re probably going to do it anyway. Most of the time these restrictions are put in place just to stop people from having fun. Sometimes, though, rules and warnings are the only things standing between you and certain death.
For decades, people have warned others not to go to one particular Asian island, as those foolish enough to venture onto its shores are never seen or heard from again. There are plenty of rumors surrounding what goes on there, but when you discover what’s really lurking on the island, you’ll think twice about booking your next tropical vacation…
Located just off the coast of India’s Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, North Sentinel Island is a small, square landmass that’s served as a major point of interest in the area for over two centuries. With its coral reefs and lush forests, it’s easy to see why so many have been drawn to its shores.
Yet despite overwhelming interest in the island, all but those with the highest level of clearance from the Indian government are forbidden from even entering the waters around it. The danger of running aground on coral reefs is surely real, but the biggest threat actually lurks just beyond the tree line…
North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese, a group of natives that have called the island home since pre-Neolithic days. The tribe is considered to be one of the last uncontacted peoples in the world, and the reason for this has given the island a truly notorious reputation.
In an effort to preserve their primitive lifestyle, the Sentinelese are known to mercilessly attack any visitors to the island on sight. They’ve even been known to fire arrows and launch spears at fishing boats that drift too close to their shores.
Surprisingly, however, after nearly a hundred years of failed efforts, an anthropological team made peaceful contact with the Sentinelese in 1991. The researchers were able to gain unprecedented access to the small island, though their time spent on North Sentinel left them with more questions than answers.
Despite their proximity to other island tribes, the Sentinelese possessed a distinct marking system unlike those of any other group, and their language – described as a series of high-pitched sounds and gestures – was unintelligible. Even a translator from a tribe of Onge natives, whom the Sentinelese had been know to engage with, couldn’t understand them.
Peaceful exchanges between the anthropologists and the Sentinelese continued until 1994, whereupon the project was abandoned in favor of leaving the tribe completely uncontacted. This decree was generally respected by the vessels that trolled the waters around the island… until two fishermen decided to test their luck in 2006.
While illegally harvesting crab just off North Sentinel, the weight anchoring the vessel manned by Indian fishermen Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari failed, casting them adrift toward the island. Paying no mind to the warnings of fellow seamen, the two washed ashore and were brutally killed by the natives.
Following the incident the Indian government cracked down on illegal visits to the island, maintaining a constant naval presence in the surrounding waters and prosecuting any who attempted to enter the area. But even with additional efforts made to sway potential trespassers, those determined to contact the forbidden tribe weren’t dissuaded.
In October of 2018, an American named John Allen Chau arrived in the area in the hope of visiting the island and living amongst its inhabitants. Chau, a devout Christian, sought to adopt the language of the Sentinelese and convert them to Christianity.
Chau was met with heavy resistance to his plan, but the 26 year old felt it was his spiritual mission to bring religion to North Sentinel. And so, in mid November, Chau hired a group of fisherman to take him to the island.
His initial visit to North Sentinel was a positive one, as upon arriving he was met with amusement and curiosity as opposed to the anticipated hostility. However, after offering them fish and other gifts, one of the natives fired an arrow at his Bible and Chau fled the island.
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Following this brush with death, the fishermen advised Chau to abandon his efforts, but the young man, unfazed by the arrow, was determined to see his mission through. That’s why on November 17, Chau instructed the men to bring him to the island and to leave him there for good.
The fishermen obliged, but after a few hours they returned to North Sentinel to make sure that their American friend hadn’t been harmed. To their horror, the men watched as the Sentinelese dragged the lifeless body of John Allen Chau along the beach.
Hurrying back to Port Blair – the capital of the Andaman Islands – the fishermen relayed the news of Chau’s death to one of his friends, who then contacted Chau’s family to break the news. The fishermen also brought with them Chau’s diary, wherein he had left instructions in the event of his passing.
“I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” Chau wrote in the final entry before his death. “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed … Don’t retrieve my body.”
Chau’s family honored his wishes, calling off the attempts made to recover his body from the island. Though it’s believed his death was caused by arrow fire, the truth behind what actually killed John Allen Chau will likely never be known.
The Indian government has taken a hands-off approach with Chau’s death, believing that both the missionary’s body and the Sentinelese people should be left alone. And while officials won’t press charges for the killing, those involved in getting him to the island in the first place have been arrested.
Though Chau’s death is no doubt tragic, many refuse to blame the Sentinelese for simply defending themselves from what they perceived to be a threat. Given the region’s history of foreign imperialism, some believe that the natives’ violent nature is rooted in a desire to survive, not some primal need to kill.
With yet another death on their hands, the Indian government faces enormous pressure to place stricter regulations on the North Sentinel area and to properly protect the native inhabitants. Whether they meet these demands remains to be seen, but this event should send a strong message to any wannabe adventurers looking to set sail for the forbidden island: leave the Sentinelese alone.