Stone Age Tribe Kills Fishermen
by Peter Foster in New Delhi / February 9, 2006
One of the world’s last Stone Age tribes has murdered two fishermen whose boat drifted on to a desert island in the Indian Ocean. The Sentinelese, thought to number between 50 and 200, have rebuffed all contact with the modern world, firing a shower of arrows at anyone who comes within range.
They are believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world to remain isolated and appear to have survived the 2004 Asian tsunami. The men killed, Sunder Raj, 48, and Pandit Tiwari, 52, were fishing illegally for mud crabs off North Sentinel Island, a speck of land in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands archipelago.
Fellow fishermen said they dropped anchor for the night on January 25 but fell into a deep sleep, probably helped by large amounts of alcohol. During the night their anchor, a rock tied to a rope, failed to hold their open-topped boat against the currents and they drifted towards the island.
“As day broke, fellow fishermen say they tried to shout at the men and warn them they were in danger,” said Samir Acharya, the head of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, an environmental organisation. “However they did not respond – they were probably drunk – and the boat drifted into the shallows where they were attacked and killed.”
The Indian coast guard tried to recover the bodies using a helicopter but was met by a hail of arrows.
Photographs shot from the helicopter show the near-naked tribesmen rushing to fire. But the downdraught from its rotors exposed the two fishermen buried in shallow graves and not roasted and eaten, as local rumour suggested.
Attempts to recover the bodies have been suspended, although the Andaman Islands police chief, Dharmendra Kumar, said an operation might be mounted later.
Environmental groups urged the authorities to leave the bodies and respect the five-kilometre exclusion zone thrown around the island. In the 1980s and early 1990s many Sentinelese were killed in skirmishes with armed salvage operators who visited the island after a shipwreck. Since then the tribesmen have remained virtually undisturbed.
This is the closest photograph of any Sentineli ever taken. A woman collects coconuts thrown from boats of an Indian goverment “friendship mission” into the water for the Sentineli to pick up. After the Jarawa debacle caused by just such plan- and pointless visits, the visits to the Sentineli were suspended (Photo courtesy KAS Film 1993)
A photo released by the Indian Coast Guard shows a Sentinelese aiming an arrow at a helicopter of the force as it flies over their island after the tsunami. (PTI)