North Sentinel Island

Uncontacted People

Star Trek made much about its "Prime Directive" - the concept that a developing civilization should not be messed with by the Federation. The culture should be allowed to take its own path through life without being guided or "fixed" or changed by others who think they know better.

Did you know we still have isolated groups like this in our modern Internet world, here on Earth? Civilizations who know nothing at all about technology, TV, radio, the internet, airplanes, or anything else many of us take for granted?

One such group is the Sentinelese which lives on North Sentinel Island. This small island is part of a chain to the east of India.

North Sentinel Island

The entire community numbers only about 100 people meaning their families have to interbreed quite a lot to keep going. Over the years random sailors have shipwrecked there. Some have left alive and others have been killed. The Indian government tried a few times to make contact but finally decided in 1997 to let this small group of people simply live their own lives as they are. The island is officially off limits. The few fishermen who accidentially end up near it can end up killed by spears or arrows.

There are of course many ways to look at this situation. One is that the Sentinelese have been living this way for at least hundreds of years. Their life is traditional and the way they have always been.

Another view is that these people had originally probably been part of a culture in the region where people traveled, intermingled, and kept their bloodline and disease resistance fresh. We have now "isolated" and boxed them in. They no longer have access to any outsiders to marry with. They don't have any way to build up their immunity to diseases. If just one bird or shipwrecked sailor or such ends up on the island with a new disease, the entire group could be wiped out within weeks. By "building a wall" around them we are forcing them to only interbreed which causes a variety of issues. It's not necessarily that they "need" smartphones and Candy Crush - but we are denying them a healthy food mix and known medical solutions to illnesses that their precious few remaining people are suffering. Just one shipwrecked sailor and the entire culture is destroyed - and everything which made them unique is lost forever.

There's another issue, too. It's one thing to worry about hapless fishermen who get blown off course. But there are always bored too-rich people out there who enjoy doing whatever they want to do. What if some of these rich people decide to rent a yacht and go to the island just to say they were the first modern people to interact with them? And, again, what if they bring disease and wipe everyone out? Or what if they alter the culture and bring them technology just because it's a fun whim? There's no way to actually wall off the island. We can only hope people don't go in there to cause trouble. And, knowing the way our world works, not everyone will listen to that request. So is it safer for trained professionals to do it with good intentions before some rich billionaire playboy does it on a whim?

If you think that's farfetched, there are already other areas of the world where tourist companies have set up "safaris" for tourists to get glimpses of uncontacted tribes. It's only a matter of time before that begins here.

What are your thoughts?

North Sentinel Island on Wikipedia
Forbes Article on North Sentinel Island

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