Members of the world's most isolated tribe, the Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands, have killed two fishermen who had illegally approached their island. The Sentinelese, who were photographed after the December 2004 tsunami firing an arrow at a helicopter over their island, have resisted contact with the outside world for up to 60,000 years. They are under threat from poachers illegally fishing and diving for lobster around their island.
Survival's director Stephen Corry said today, Contact with the outside world could very quickly wipe out this unique and vulnerable tribe. The local administration must ensure that the Sentinelese are left alone as long as that is their wish – and what happened last month made it very clear that it is. These tragic deaths could have been avoided if the authorities had been enforcing the law.'
The tribe killed the two men, Sunder Raj (48) and Pandit Tiwari (52), on 26 January after they had slept overnight in their boat near North Sentinel Island. It is illegal to go within five kilometres of the island, in order to protect the Sentinelese from exploitation, violence, and diseases to which they have no immunity. But increasing numbers of people from neighbouring islands visit the island to dive for lobster close to the shore and to hunt pigs on the island, depriving the tribe of essential foodstuffs.
The Sentinelese tribe is thought to number between 50 and 200 people. Wreckage salvagers killed many in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they visited the island with guns to try to salvage iron and other goods from a shipwreck.
The related Jarawa tribe stopped resisting contact with outsiders in 1998. They are now plagued by intruders on their land stealing the animals they hunt, bringing in alcohol and sexually exploiting Jarawa women.
Samir Acharya of local environmental organisation SANE said today, The Indian Coast Guard and Police must be commended in this case for resisting local pressure to retrieve the men's bodies, thereby avoiding further contact with the Sentinelese.'
Photos and footage available. For more information call Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email [email protected]
Stamp It Out campaign: Many press articles about the Sentinelese and the Jarawa call them 'Stone Age' and 'primitive'. Survival is campaigning to end the use of such pejorative terms to describe modern-day tribal people. Do you think terms like 'primitive' or 'Stone Age' are accurate descriptions of tribal people, or unacceptable and racist? Have your say here.