What to do about the Sentinelese?

From Science last week, this article by Pallava Bagla on the Indian government's quandaries dealing with the Andaman Islands.

Since 1991, ANA has enforced a hands-off policy toward the Sentinelese. The only exception was a mission to check on how they fared in the 2004 tsunami. When an Indian Air Force helicopter flew over the island, it was greeted with a barrage of arrows and turned back. Then last January, two fishers entered the waters of North Sentinel Island, reportedly to poach crabs. They were allegedly slain and buried in the sand, says Samir Acharya, president of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology in Port Blair, the Andaman capital. Police exercised restraint by not pressing charges or venturing into Sentinelese territory to retrieve the bodies, Acharya says.
But other tribes are reaching out. The Jarawa, once hostile like the Sentinelese, began to visit ethnic Indian communities in 1998, sometimes seeking medical assistance. Their benign forays pose a challenge for the government: Heightened contact may erode tribal culture, whereas a hands-off approach would be difficult to sustain and justify, particularly when medical aid is sought. The government has since established a health outpost bordering Jarawa settlements (Bagla 2006:34).

The huge disease risk from contact is only one of many problems, but it is in many ways the most imminent -- every continental disease has the potential to be a "bird flu" epidemic for the Andamanese.

The Great Andamanese, who are said to have been 10,000 strong at the end of the 18th century, are down to 20 individuals, and the Onge number only 98.


Bagla P. 2006. Isolate or engage? Indigenous islanders pose challenge for India. Science 313:34. DOI link