As a National Geographic documentary about the death of missionary John Allen Chau at the hands of the uncontacted Sentinelese people is released, campaigners have warned that the imminent destruction of their little-known neighbors, the Shompen, is going unnoticed.
Great Nicobar Island, home of the Shompen, is in the southern part of the same Indian territory as the Sentinelese. Most Shompen reject contact, but the Indian government is planning a massive development project on the island that would totally wipe them out. It is believed that some of the final clearances for this project are set to be imminently granted.
If the project goes ahead, huge swathes of their unique rainforest will be destroyed – to be replaced by a mega-port; a new city; an international airport; a power station; a defense base; an industrial park; and 650,000 settlers – a population increase of nearly 8,000%.
Indeed, the government’s aim is to transform the Shompen’s island into “the Hong Kong of India.”
Besides the National Geographic film, at least two other films about Chau and the Sentinelese are in production.
Fiona Watson, Survival’s Director of Research and Advocacy, said today: “From the massive media interest in Chau, you might get the impression that the death of one Westerner at the hands of the Sentinelese, who were defending their lives and land, is worth more than the imminent destruction of an entire Indigenous people.
“The Shompen may be less well-known than the Sentinelese, but the threat to their survival is even more acute, as hanging over them is the imminent approval of this mega-project. It’s impossible to imagine that the Shompen will be able to survive this overwhelming and catastrophic transformation of their island. The project must be scrapped now. The Shompen, like uncontacted tribes around the world, are totally dependent on their land – if it’s destroyed, so are they.”