VERY little has been documented about the protected Sentinelese tribe living on the North Sentinel Island, part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in the Bay of Bengal. The tribe is in news after they allegedly killed an American tourist, identified as John Allen Chau (27). According to police, Chau had rented a boat and hired some local fishermen to take him to the North Sentinel Island.
Linguists who have studied tribal languages of Andaman Islands suggest that physical features of this tribe show closer resemblance to the Jarawa tribe, living in neighbouring islands.
According to Shailendra Mohan, professor in Austro-Asiatic languages with the department of linguistics at Deccan College, Pune, this tribe also appears to be slightly taller than most other tribes living on the Andaman group of islands. “Upon observing the physical features from the available photographs, we could find that the Sentinelese were slightly taller and possessed a straight posture than the other three tribes – the Jarawa, the Onge and the Great Andamanese, all of whom live on the Andaman group of islands. Also, we could find that their features showed resemblance to that of the Jarawas,” suggested Mohan, who was a part of two internationally funded researches studying the tribal languages in the Andaman islands during 2001 and 2002.
However, whether there are any links between these two tribes remains unknown, Mohan said. His maiden stint in understanding the tribal languages spoken in the Andaman islands was when he worked on a study sponsored by Max Planck University, Germany. During the study, the team managed to interact with the Jarawa, the Onge and the Great Andamanese tribes. Later, in 2001 and 2002, he was also part of a similar study titled ‘The Vanishing Voices of the Great Andamanese’, or VOGA, led by Professor Anvita Abbi from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Though these tribes live in close neighbourhoods, none of them reported to know anything about the existence of the Sentinelese tribes, living in the vicinity,” recalled Mohan. Notably, Sentinelese are among the very few tribes left in the world who are involved in hunting and gathering even to this day. “Most of the tribes today carry out agriculture activities. This makes the Sentineles an important tribe as they are the pure or unmixed set of people still involved in hunting and gathering,” he said.
Further analysis revealed that the Sentinelese were found carrying bows and arrows, a distinguishing marker for this tribe. It is believed that most of the tribes living on the Andaman islands had migrated from Africa, but neither is the exact time period nor the route taken to reach here established by far.
He said, “But the Jarawas and the Great Andamanese are two genetically different group of tribes and there is some migration definitely from Africa.”
Further information Physical features of each of these four main tribal communities living on the Andaman islands, according to Mohan, is distinct. The last among the four tribal groups to connect with the outer world waretrieved from the photos also reveals that this tribe lives in dark and thick jungles. s the Jarawas, who now live inside the specially built Jarawa Reserve Forest, located to the north of Port Blair. Tourists heading to Bartang island can get to see the Jarawa tribes, who are settled at what is locally termed the Middle island of the Andaman group of islands, by travelling along the Andaman Trunk Road (ATR).