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The Most Dangerous Island on Earth - North Sentinel Island

Throughout human history a typical theme has been the domination of more technologically advanced societies over “simpler” or “more primitive” ones. In fact in the past 500 years, European societies would come to dominate the world, spreading their culture, often through force of arms or outright genocide.  More often than not, the meeting of Old World peoples with New World natives tended to end very badly for the natives. Many cultures were wiped out, many more assimilated or adapted their cultures with European culture. Today there are few places where people living have not in some way been touched by the modern world. One notable exception is North Sentinel Island, located in the Bay of Bengal.

Officially North Sentinel Island is territory of India, part of the Andaman Islands. In reality the people of North Sentinel Island are their own people, free from any known government or modern organization.  Apparently, the Sentinelese are very much happy to keep it that way. Throughout their entire known history, the Sentinelese have been known to viciously fight against any trespass or incursion on their small island. Going back to ancient times the Indians called the island “Cannibal Island”, and told many tales of the dangerous and ruthless natives who inhabited it. Those tales were passed on to the ancient Greeks after the invasion of northern India by Alexander the Great, and thus the infamous legends of the island were mention by Ptolemy. Marco Polo recieved word of the island during his travels to China, writing about the islanders, “They are a most violent and cruel generation who seem to eat everybody they catch.” 

Since then, every expedition to island has been met with extreme hostility, and as a result the island has been left untouched to this day. Throughout the 16th-18th centuries many an explorer or shipwrecked sailor met their end on the island at the hands of the Sentinelese. In 1867 a British merchant ship shipwrecked on the island, and its surviivg 110 man crew spent several days fighting off the islanders with guns and swords. Many were killed and wounded in the battle before rescue. This prompted an expedition of reprisal by the Royal Navy who landed marines on the island a short time later. Most of the Sentinelese had disappeared into hiding, knowing that they couldn’t fight a battle against such overwhelming force. In the end the British left in frustration with two elderly Sentinelese and four children.

Today the idea of angry natives attacking shipwrecked sailors or explorers might be something you’d only see in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, however Sentinelese resistance to the outside world continued so that even in the 20th century people tended to steer clear of the island. In 1974 a film crew from National Geographic landed on the island in modern boats in an attempt to make contact with the islanders with peace offerings of a box of coconuts, a baby doll, and a live pig. The Sentinelese met the crew fully armed and ready for war. As a result, a the National Geographic director took an arrow to the knee, the pig was mutilated alive, and the crew was forced to bug out under a hail of arrows and spears. 

In 1981 the cargo ship Primrose shipwrecked on the island, and the Sentinelese immediately surrounded the ship, shooting at the crew with bows and several times attempting to board the ship. The crew not only radioed for help, but asked for an urgent airdrop of firearms so they could defend themselves. The drop was delayed by weather but the crew were able to fend off the attacks with a pistol, firefighting axes, and flare guns. They were rescued after a week long siege. The Sentinelese dismantled much of the ship and used the scrap iron for arrow and spearheads. It’s remaining hull can still be seen from google earth.

The only known man to peacefully visit the island was an anthropologist named Trilokinath Prandit in 1991, who several times landed on the island with gifts which he left upon the beach.  When he did meet the natives they shot arrows at him and waved their genitals at him. However at one point he was able to make peaceful contact with some of the natives. However as as he left the island, the natives had a change of heart and began shooting arrows at him once more, he hasn’t been back since.

Today North Sentinelese Island is protected by the Indian Government and it is illegal to land there. The reasons for this are to keep the Sentinelese culture intact, and prevent the spread of disease from the island. Note that in history native peoples often suffered deadly diseases after making contact with newcomers. Another reason for creating a 3 mile exclusionary zone around the island is because in 2006 two drunk fisherman landed on the island and were murdered. Thus the Indian Government set up the contact ban to protect outsiders from the Sentinelese as much as protecting the Sentinelese from the outside world. In 2004 an Indian Coast Guard helicopter flew over the island to see if the Setinelese were OK after the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, and to offer help if needed. The helicopter found that the Sentinelese were not only OK after the tsunami, but didn’t want anything any aid at all as they fired arrows at the helicopter.

 Today we still no nothing about the language, culture, and ethnicity of the Sentinelese Islanders. The only pictures we have of them are from the occasional illegal drone which buzzes over the island, and is typically met with a hail of arrows. It seems that despite seeing things such as ships, helicopters, and robotic drones, the Sentinelese don’t want fuck all to do with the modern world.

Watch on margotandherlimpet.tumblr.com

As an anthropologist, this makes my heart burst with happiness. Sharing and understanding cultures is a beautiful act of respect and a great honor. Accurate representation and research can lead to absolutely stunning and extremely gratifying results. 

Anthropology pro tip: whenever a source describes a luridly horrible practice protected by a culture of absolute secrecy, nine times out of ten what that means is that the researcher in question pulled the practice out of his ass, willfully misinterpreted the alleged practitioners’ utter bafflement at his strange questions as secretiveness, and eventually got kicked out for being a weirdo.

Ruth Shady (b. 1946) is an archaeologist and anthropologist from Peru. She is the founder and director of the archaeological project at Caral – the most ancient city in the Americas, and the site of the Norte Chico civilisation.

She has directed numerous archaeological projects around Peru, offering valuable information about the history of the Americas and the civilisations that once inhabited it. She also served as the director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of Peru, and professor at the National University of San Marcos.

Weird Taboos

by Saṃsāran

So you’re in your room and you decide to pleasure yourself. You are in the middle of it and your kid brother walks in. You are so embarrassed! 

But why?

Sex is the most natural thing in the world. Yet, it is something we do in private. My wife would even kick the dog out of the room before we made love. Now, here is the weird thing. Not every culture has this taboo. In some tribal cultures, everybody lives in one big space. Couples are having sex all the time and they have no privacy and nobody seems to mind. Northern European people once lived in communal longhouses just like this. 

In the Amazon, there are tribes where families all live together and sex goes on all the time. Women and men are very nearly naked all the time. Yet the sight of a woman eating, to a man, is considered taboo and a man would be scandalized if his wife ate in front of the men of the village. Menstruation is another one. In many cultures, women are sequestered in a special hut during their menses. The idea that a person could bleed for days just plain freaked the men out. I remember my politically incorrect Dad saying they should bring that custom back. Apparently, my 5′2″ mother scared the hell out of him during her time.

In Japan, women cover their mouths when they laugh. Yet men and women will bathe together with no concern over nudity. In ancient Rome there were long rows of toilet seats for public use with no partitions, no stalls and men and women used them at the same time.  I guess what I am saying here is a thing is taboo because we all agree that it is. It seems like most taboos center around some bodily function which we like to keep private. Eating, sex, going to the bathroom or, like in many Native American tribes, seeing your mother-in-law are all forbidden somewhere.

We humans are strange critters.

The thing that gets me about the whole neo-primitivist movement is that they keep trying to position technological interconnectedness as something that no society would ever adopt willingly.

Like, dude, there are recorded cases of ostensibly uncontacted hunter-gatherer civilisations getting caught stealing wi-fi and using cell phone minutes as currency.

By and large, people of every cultural background love the idea of being in constant contact with their friends and neighbours, and adoption of any technology that enables it is both immediate and enthusiastic.

Y’all are weirdos.

Mary Leakey (1913-1996) was a paleoanthropologist who made several important discoveries related to the evolution of humanity. In 1948 she discovered the first ever fossilised Proconsul skull, an extinct ape and an early ancestor of humans.

Even though she showed a great interest in archaeology from an early age and wanted to apply to Oxford, she was discouraged to do so, and was turned away from several excavation sites until finally being allowed to work. Throughout her career she discovered fossils and stone tools belonging to different species of early hominids, some of them more than 3.75 million years old. She discovered fifteen new species and one new genus of animal.

A zoologist who observed gorillas in their native habitat was amazed by the uniformity of their life and their vast idleness. Hours and hours without doing anything. Was boredom unknown to them? This is indeed a question raised by a human, a busy ape. Far from fleeing monotony, animals crave it, and what they most dread is to see it end. For it ends, only to be replaced by fear, the cause of all activity. Inaction is divine; yet it is against inaction that man has rebelled. Man alone, in nature, is incapable of enduring monotony, man alone wants something to happen at all costs—something, anything…. Thereby he shows himself unworthy of his ancestor: the need for novelty is the characteristic of an alienated gorilla.
— 

Emil Cioran

Important Terms

For approaching Religious and Anthropological Studies:

Cultural Relativism:

“The ability to view the beliefs and customs of other peoples within the context of their own cultures rather than one’s own; or, describing another culture from its own point of view without imposing one’s own cultural values.”

Look at what people BELIEVE, not whether or not what they believe is “true.”

Ethnocentrism (the opposite of cultural relativism):

“The tendency to judge the customs of other societies by the standards of one’s own; combines the belief in the superiority of one’s own culture with the practice of judging other cultures by the standards and values of one’s own culture.”

Harnessing ethnocentric ideas when approaching religious and cultural studies will hinder one from truly being able to learn and understand other peoples and their cultures.