New Andaman book on Sentinelese tribe seeks to bust some myths

The 160-page book by anthropology scientist Dr M Sasikumar contains several “logical interpretations” about the tribe after having studied their behaviour and their reflections in the scattered historical records or various survey reports

New Andaman book on Sentinelese tribe seeks to bust some myths

The North Great Andamanese photographed in 1905. (Photo: Radcliffe Brown/Wikimedia Commons)

A new book on the North Sentinelese tribe will be released soon by an anthropology scientist, throwing fresh lights on what is often described as the world’s one of the most secluded tribes.

The book comes close on the heels of the recent killing of an American preacher allegedly by the Sentinelese tribe. The American national had ventured into the prohibited island with the help of local fishermen in a bid to spread Christianity.

The author of the new book, Dr M Sasikumar, is a deputy director in the Anthropological Survey of India.


“From the accounts so far available about the death of the American, it appears the Sentinelese only defended their territory. The message was loud and clear that no intruder was welcome to their land,” Dr Sasikumar said in an exclusive interview.

Dr Sasikumar said his new book was in the “final stages of publication” and pieced together historical narrations of the Sentinelese tribe at different points of time and also his personal observations as an anthropological scientist and as one who had made two visits to the island in 2014. He had sighted 16 of the tribe ~ seven males, six females and three children.

READ | American ‘tourist’ killed with bows and arrows by protected tribe in Andaman islands

There is said to be only a small booklet on the Sentinelese that was published after anthropologist T N Pandit’s successive visits to the island in the early ‘90s. The booklet largely contained several survey reports of the ASI and his experience in the outreach initiative to the Sentinelese.

The new book is about 160 pages and contains several “logical interpretations” about the tribe after having studied their behaviour and their reflections in the scattered historical records or various survey reports.

The author of this new book, Dr Sasikumar, had visited North Sentinelese island following reports that the missing Malaysian airliner – MH370 may have crashed in the island as NASA satellite pictures had detected smoke billowing out of the island when a massive search operations for the wreckage of the plane was underway.

Dr Sasikumar flew in a helicopter with other team members around the island and also circumnavigated the island but reports about the Malayasian airliner were found to be totally untrue. “It must have been a natural forest fire or the deliberate burning of forest undergrowths that the islanders were used to which had caused smoke,” said Sasikumar.

EDITORIAL | Lethally medieval

Two other ASI scientist – Mr. Amit Kumar Ghosh ~a Superintending Anthropologist and Mr. Umesh Kumar ~ a Senior Ecologist had long been associated with the outreach programme with the Jarwas tribe shared their views on some of the findings of Dr Sasikumar about the Sentinelese in comparison to the Jaraws.

The new book on the Sentinelese removes some of the “myths” about the tribe, the foremost being that the tribe is cannibal in nature. “It was widely believed that cannibalism was part of the culture of the tribe. But it is not so,” said Dr Sasikumar.

History records that there had been three incidents of killings by the Sentinelse in the island involving four human beings. These were in 1896, in 2006 (when two fishermen drifted to the island and were killed and in 2018 the American preacher. But in all the cases the bodies were seen being buried on the shore,” said the author.

Another interesting light on the tribe is that they never use poison on the tip of the arrow that they target during times of intrusions. Also, while red cloth had been a favourite mode of enticement or Jarawas, it did not work with the Sentinelese.

The Jarawas used red cloth for head bands, wrist bands and for other embellishments but it had not been the case with the Sentinelese, One more interesting feature of the new book is the finding that the Sentinelese hang human skulls in the walls and it seems to be part of their belief system to preserve ancestor’s skulls.

Meanwhile, in a report submitted to the Andaman and Nicobar Island authorities, the ASI which is headquartered in Kolkata has suggested a set of guidelines to be implemented in the aftermath of the latest alleged killing of an American national. One of the suggestions is to put a blanket ban on fishermen and fishing boats venturing anywhere close to the island inhavited by the Sentinelese tribe. “It must be stopped immediately,” said a top ASI official who did not wish to be named.