The world may be more interconnected than ever before, but as of 2013, there were still hundreds of uncontacted tribes hiding out in the world.
It’s fascinating to think that these small groups of people are completely unaware of the Moon landings, nuclear weapons, the Internet, David Attenborough, Donald Trump, Europe, dinosaurs, Mars – not the planet nor the chocolate bar – the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Darth Vader. All they know is their immediate environment, and that’s pretty much it.
There are likely several out there that are yet to be discovered, but for now, let’s take a look at some of those we’re aware of – who they are, where they are, and why they remain in isolation.
Although it’s a bit of a fluid term, we’re defining an “uncontacted tribe” as a group of people that have had no substantial direct contact with modern civilization. At most, they’ve seen glimpses of a helicopter or an airplane, or have chased off any curious modern people.
Many have briefly met with civilization since the conquest of the New World began in earnest, often with ironically uncivilized results.
Hundreds of kilometers east of India lies the Andaman Island archipelago. Around 26,000 years ago, during the last glacial maximum’s heyday, a land bridge between India and these islands protruded from the shallow sea, and curious humans decided to cross it before the bridge slipped below the waves once more.
Undisturbed for millennia, contact with the outside world began in the 18th century, which almost proved to be their downfall: The Andamanese peoples were almost wiped out by disease, violence, and invasion. There are only about 500 left today, and at least one tribe, the Jangli, are now extinct.
The Sentinelese, however, have resisted making contact. Living on the North Sentinel Island, their language remains unintelligible and very little is known about them. These diminutive people do not appear to be able to make fire, nor grow crops of any kind, and they survive by hunting, fishing, and gathering edible plants.
It’s not known precisely how many are alive today, but it could be as many as a few hundred to as few as 15. The 2004 tsunami that killed around a quarter of a million people around the region also slammed into the islands, but it appears that they have survived the event.