Isolation By Choice

By: Shivya


Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 2.51.04 PMPassing a tiny island, you see people wading through the water. They’re pointing at your boat, so to be friendly, you wave. The next thing you know, you’re looking for cover as an arrow passes above your head. And, while in shock, you do your best to get the hell out of there. Now, did it really seem like they wanted you to be near them? I don’t think so.

There are still presumably 100 or so uncontacted tribes in the world. Most exchanges between them and us, the outside world, have been hostile. Research shows that they have learned to stay away from us because, in the past, we attacked, enslaved and killed many of their tribesmen. Stories passed through generations about outsiders have kept them away, as stories of burglars make me double check the doors at night.

I believe that this is fair. The Sentinelese and all other uncontacted tribes should have their choices respected by us and be treated like any other human being. Yes, their way of showing us that they want to be left alone may be a little extreme, but it’s only because they think we are their predator, coming to attack again.

For example, the Sentinelese tribe recently killed a missionary. The law says that they be  avoided. Still, he went ahead by bribing a fisherman (who was obviously arrested) to take him there and obviously they shot at him, but he still continued. He was endangering himself and the tribespeople. Clearly, they didn’t want to be contacted or be recruited as followers of Jesus. His family later said that they’re mourning their loss and “forgive his killers.”. First of all, John Allen Chau had no right to try and enforce his way of life on the Sentinelese who have undoubtedly chosen to stay away from us and our way of life. We as humans, have the tendency to impose beliefs of our culture on others. For example, as an expat, I don’t impose Indian and Hindu customs on my friends and community or judge them for not following them. Me, an outsider, living here in Malaysia which is majority Muslim, would not do that. Secondly, it’s not as if they were targeting him, wanting to kill him. They were forced to because they had made it clear they didn’t want him there, but he continued the approach. That is nobody’s fault but his. 

There is no valid, logical or beneficial reason for us to want to make contact anyways. Curiosity? Well, it’s known to kill, so we shouldn’t expect more than that. Some scientists say that it’s beneficial for them so that they can develop into the modern world. Yet just coming in contact with us kills them. Literally. It kills them. Like the plague, they can’t handle diseases that we are used to. In some instances, it wiped out the whole population except a few who survived and are trying to live in the forests that are being destroyed by loggers and cattle ranchers. This issue illustrates that we believe what we think is right most of the time. You should help someone if they have asked you to help before. Or you should help them if you know they are in major trouble and you have ways of helping them. Approaching them once but receiving a negative response is an indication for you to NOT approach again. Some people are not comfortable with that. Society needs to understand that.

Anthropologist Madhumala Chattopadhyay is one of the few people who was welcomed, with caution, by the Sentinelese 28 years ago. Her team met them but a misunderstood gesture left them feeling targeted and they directed the tema to leave. Chattopadhyay has not returned to the island since. She believes they have been living on the islands “without any problem” and what they need is not protection “but to be left alone”. Little things we do without thinking can be less of a problem to us than it is to others. Thoughtless actions are depicted as rude and happen everyday by us. Supporting rights of indigenous people is an issue that deserves more attention because they’re people who are not considered as important by our society. 

How would you feel if an external being decided we needed them and their insight to survive, when we’re doing just fine? Respect their choices and don’t meddle — nobody likes a meddler. If they really reach out because they’re in trouble, then we can help them. Till then, please just leave them alone. 


Works Cited

Chattopadhyay, Madhumala. “Meet the First Woman to Contact One of the World’s Most Isolated Tribes.” Meet the First Woman to Contact the Sentinelese, 7 Dec. 2018,

Ellison, Katherine. “Anthropology – The Conversation.” JSTOR, Katherine Ellison, Aug. 2008,

International, Survival. “A Dangerous Controversy.” A Dangerous Controversy,

Kane, Sean. “More than 100 Tribes Exist Totally Isolated from Global Society.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 8 Mar. 2018,

Image – “Meet The Sentinelese Tribe, The Mysterious And Uncontacted Residents Of North Sentinel Island.” All Thats Interesting, 26 Jan. 2018, Meet The Sentinelese Tribe, The Mysterious And Uncontacted Residents Of North Sentinel Island.

Nuwer, Rachel. “Future – Anthropology: The Sad Truth about Uncontacted Tribes.” BBC, BBC, 4 Aug. 2014,