Posted by on 28/06/2010

There exists, right now, as you read this, a genuine, unexplored jungle island in the Bay of Bengal inhabited by a pre-neolithic people who have had no formative contact with the outside world in 15.000 years. They kill anyone who comes within range of their arrows and spears, and their lifestyle and culture is completely unknown.

What do they sound like?

Where is our space based hyper directional microphone as sophisticated as these satellites to point down from orbit and capture the songs and words of living ancestors?

I poured over Daniel Levithin’s “This is Your Brain on Music” last year and have I just started his new book “The world in Six Songs” about the co-evolution of music and the human brain.

I am interested to see if he mentions these North Sentinelese islanders at all.

What an amazing audio adventure that would be, to listen to the songs and words of a tribe of humans who no longer possess the knowledge of how to make fire.


“For Google Earth explorers, start out at about 5000 kilometers and center your screen at 11° 33’N, 92° 14’ E. Gazing down at the Bay of Bengal between India and Southeast Asia, you’ll see the Andaman Islands, an Indian territory not far from some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. For thousands of years, however, mariners studiously avoided this archipelago, noted for the isolation and inhospitality of its inhabitants (their rule of thumb was to kill all interlopers). In the mid-1800s, Britain (wouldn’t you know it?) subdued the large islands in the chain, mostly to build a massive prison for its recalcitrant Indian subjects. With outsiders came disease, leading to the gradually disappearance of most Andamanese hunter-gatherer tribes.”

“One island, however, escaped the fate of its neighbors: North Sentinel. Google Earthers should zoom down to about 10 kilometers, where the island fills the screen. Nothing is visible except trees and coral reefs. But the lack of human indicators is misleading. North Sentinel Island is inhabited, but by how may people is anyone’s guess. We know next to nothing about their language or culture. In the late 20th century, a few Indian anthropologists tried to make contact, but failed.”

“Some observers feared that the December 2004 tsunami might have wiped out the North Sentinelese. But Anthropologists were relieved, in a rather twisted manner, to learn that when a small Indian fishing boat veered to close to the island in 2006, its crew was given a typical Sentinelese reception (they were killed and buried in shallow graves). When a helicopter came to investigate the crime, local archers bravely drove it away with a volley of arrows.”


And to get a sense of what it would be like to meet such people. A journey in Central New Guinea with David Attenborough

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