Tuesday, July 16, 2013

North Sentinel Island

One of the inspirations for the fantasy island of Dinotopia is a real place called North Sentinel Island. 
North Sentinel Island (left) and Dinotopia
Hidden away in the Bay of Bengal, east of India, North Sentinel Island is about the same area of Manhattan. The people who live there have remained to the present day almost entirely unstudied by anthropologists, untouched by first world diseases, and unspoiled by tourists. It is the last place on earth undisturbed by modern civilization.

The island has enjoyed this condition for a variety of unusual circumstances. The entire coastline is surrounded by impassable coral reefs. There is no reliable harbor. There's nothing on the island worth claiming by more powerful nations. The view on Google Earth shows solid tree cover and no sign of roads, settlement, or agriculture.

However, there appear to be between 50 and 400 people living there. No one knows for sure how many. They speak a language that no one else understands. They use and cherish fire, but it is believed they don't know how to make it. They haven't developed the paddle, so they can't power their dugouts to the nearby Andaman Islands, and have never developed trade. Two cargo ships, the MV Rusley and MV Primrose grounded on the coast in 1977 and 1981. Most of the crew was rescued, and the inhabitants scavenged iron from the wrecks for arrowheads.

The Sentinelese fiercely rebuff all attempted visits or gifts. If anyone tries to greet them from the outside world, nearly naked warriors appear on the beach and attack with spears and arrows. Despite several attempts to make contact, usually by leaving gifts on the beach, the Indian government has decided to leave them undisturbed, and now arrests anyone who attempts to approach the island.

What stories do they tell each other about the few helicopters that have hovered briefly over their beaches? What have they made from the parts they salvaged from the wrecked ships? What do they know that we have forgotten?
Wikipedia on North Sentinel Island
Mental Floss: The Stone Age People of North Sentinel Island


Rafael Albo said...

Very nice the Indian government's decision. This is the kind of thing very rare in the world.

bill said...

This could be the coolest thing ever.

Unknown said...

So cool, thanks for sharing this. Makes me so happy to think there is an island untouched by modern man.

Now if only I could find my way to Dinotopia, I could live the rest of my days in peace and happiness :)

Sajib OO said...

Well this might sound totally out of context (and it is :) Bay of Bengal is east of India but South of Bangladesh previously known as East Bengal in the time of colonial powers. Most of it falls under the jurisdiction of Bangladesh Gov. The sea is violent over there and so are the waves. Anyways as I'm from Bangladesh just couldn't resist to poke a little. The story sounds really mysterious and I hope it becomes a master piece.
Sorry If I derailed the topic.

James Gurney said...

Sajib, yes, and it's also near Indonesia and the Andaman Islands, too. I mentioned India because most people know where India is, and correct me if I'm wrong, but North Sentinel Island is administered by India since 1947.

Sajib OO said...

Yes, you are right they originally lie on the edges of Andaman sea and Bay of Bengal , administered by India.

Anyways interesting choice of indigenous people, good luck Mr. Gurney!

mdmattin said...

I remember they were in the news after the 2004 tsunami. When a helicopter went to check up on them, it was threatened with bows and arrows. According to this article, the Sentinelese are able to predict and defend themselves against tsunamis.

K_tigress said...

Oo nice posting. Love this kind of stuff. I love getting inspirations from the strangest places. Sometimes just finding interesting stains on say craft paper laid out on a table can have interesting shapes and patterns. When I was working on site during some of my breaks I would draw them in to things. They made interesting characters and other objects such as continents from a far away land. I’ve been also been meaning to take pictures of my bath water with the dissipated remnants of suds still floating on the surface. I’d love to make some interesting Photoshop images from the experimental bathwater pics that look like galaxies and things. On occasion I see what looks like little islands too. Guess its very similar to looking at cloud formations.

Anonymous said...

Commendable job with the post!! Thank you for the share!!
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Frank-Joseph said...

Top left corner of the island, you can even see the ship wreck on Google maps, satellite view!

Brent said...

I've written a novel based on what we know and what might be from similar tribes. It's quite revealing including the real name of the island as told by a Sentinelese who left the island in the 1800's.
Also some photo's very very few have ever seen.
I'll release it as an ebook very soon. Email me and I'll let you know when it's being released for FREE download.

Anonymous said...

For visitors to your website, my name is Capt. Robert Fore. I found this page while researching North Sentinel website postings. I am the pilot that flew the air/sea rescue operation to save the crew of the Primrose in August of 1981. For any or your readers that may be interested, the rescue operation with accompanying photos of the rescue operation can be found at:


We have been making efforts to bring even more information to light about the rescue of the Primrose crew, and any new information concerning the island and its inhabitants.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Captain Fore. That description of lowering the helicopter in strong crosswinds with very little clearance was incredibly harrowing. Here's a direct link to the rescue story:


Anonymous said...

Thank you James, I am enjoying your website. I am in the middle of trying to design a website which will not only give the most accurate information about the Primrose rescue, but hopefully will also become a serious discussion forum about North Sentinel Island and the inhabitants. I will be happy to send you the link when it is finally established, and would be happy to include a link to you site as well.

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