The Sentinelese Have Been Contacted By The Outside World At Least 11 Times Before – Here's What Happened Each Time

The Sentinelese on the coast of North Sentinel Island in the National Geographic documentary 'Man in Search of Man' Youtube

The Sentinelese — a small tribe of indigenous people living on India's North Sentinel Island — have drawn international attention for reportedly killing the American missionary John Allen Chau, who seemed to be visiting the island on a religious mission, writing in his journal, "Lord, is this island Satan's last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?"

It wasn't the first time the tribe has interacted with people from the outside world, or the first time they've killed an interloper.

The Sentinelese, part of the Andamanese tribes (a group of tribes living on the remote Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal), have a long history of occasional contact with outsiders. Since the 1800s, there have been a number of recorded contacts with the tribe, and anthropologists have made regular visits since the 1960s.

Not all of them have been friendly. In 1880, a British colonizer kidnapped six of the Sentinelese. And in 2006, tribespeople killed two fishermen harvesting crabs off the island's coast.

Here are 11 known points of contact between the Sentinelese and the outside world — and what happened each time.

In 1867, an Indian merchant ship crashed near the island.

North Sentinel, viewed by the NASA Earth Observatory. NASA Earth Observatory

In the summer of 1867, the Nineveh, an Indian merchant ship, was wrecked on a reef near North Sentinel. Eighty-six passengers and 20 crewmen made it to shore.

On the third day on the island, according to survivor accounts, they were attacked by members of the Sentinelese tribe.

The ship's captain later said the tribespeople were "perfectly naked, with short hair and red painted noses, and were opening their mouth and making sounds like 'pa on ough'; their arrows appeared to be tipped with iron."

The remaining crew members fended off the Sentinelese with sticks and stones, and they were ultimately rescued by the British Royal Navy, which then kept the Andaman Islands as a penal colony.

Some claim Marco Polo was the first European to visit the island. In about 1296, Polo wrote about the Andamanese in his diary, referring to them as cannibals and "a most brutish and savage race, having heads, eyes, and teeth like those of dog." Historians believe that he made those remarks based on hearsay and that he did not visit the islands. There is no evidence that any of the Andamanese were cannibals.

In 1880, a British naval officer kidnapped six tribe members.

In the late 1800s, India was considered one of Britain's major colonial outposts. British officers regulated different communities in the region — often violently.

A British naval officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, oversaw the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and documented the Andamanese tribes in the late 1800s.

Portman and his team — which included trackers from other Andamanese tribes he'd already made contact with — ventured to North Sentinel in 1880. They came upon an elderly couple and four children, who they took back to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The elderly couple "sickened rapidly" and died, possibly from lack of immunity to diseases the British carried, and the children were sent back to the island with gifts, according to Portman's account of his trip.

Portman wrote in his account and later discussed that he regretted introducing himself to the Andamanese.

"Their association with outsiders has brought them nothing but harm, and it is a matter of great regret to me that such a pleasant race are so rapidly becoming extinct," he said in an address to London's Royal Geographical Society.

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