16 Febrero 2017 17:15
'The outside world has brought them little but violence and contempt'.
Survival International reports: we know very little about the inhabitants of the island – and they want to keep it that way.
By: Rosa MolineroOn North Sentinel island there is a tribe that could be directly descended from the first humans to leave Africa. However, we know very little about them – and they want to keep it that way. Articles in the media generally describe the tribe as violent and possibly cannibals. But the truth is, the Sentinelese have an excellent reason for attacking those who come too close: their extreme isolation makes them very vulnerable to diseases to which they have no immunity.
The Sentinelese have probably been living on their island in the Andaman archipelago in the Bay of Bengal for 60,000 years. The island is about the size of Manhattan and it's covered in thick jungle, which means that it's difficult to see what's happening there from the air.The lack of information on the tribe hasn't stopped the media from reporting on the Sentinelese, usually in unfavourable terms: they still live in the Stone Age, they're cannibals, they're warlike. Survival International has spoken out against these prejudices: 'The media often focus on myths that make good stories for readers and trouble for tribal peoples. It is, in fact, the promulgation and perpetuation of prejudiced ideas that underpin their destruction. Around the world, tribal peoples have long been perceived – and still are – as dirty savages and backward vagabonds belonging to some doomed archaic societies.'
'Negative portrayals feed negative stereotypes which underpin systematic and gross violations of human rights, including genocide,' says the NGO. The bad reputation of the Sentinelese stems from their vigorous rejection of contact from the outside world. According to Survival International, when a helicopter flew near the island to check on the tribe's welfare after the tsunami in 2004, 'a Sentinelese man rushed out on to the beach, aiming his arrow at the pilot in a gesture that clearly said, "We don't want you here".' They didn't need help from anyone, and had clearly survived the catastrophe despite living right in the tsunami's path. It's possible that their greater harmony with nature, and their sensitivity to lunar cycles and changes in climate, enabled them to escape the worst of the disaster.
Another episode that is used to feed the myth of the fearsome tribe took place in 2006, when two Indian fishermen came to poach turtles, lobsters and sea cucumbers in the waters around the island. They moored their boat near North Sentinel. But, as they slept, their boat broke loose and drifted to shore where they were killed by the Sentinelese.This incident was interpreted by some as an act of unwarranted cruelty. However, as Survival International make clear, 'the outside world has brought them little but violence and contempt.' Near the end of the 19th century an elderly couple and two children were taken from the island by force and brought to Port Blair, the main town in the island group. They islanders soon fell ill and the old couple died. The children were then returned to the island with lots of presents. It's quite possible that those children then infected more of the islanders.
As for the claims of cannibalism, a few isolated cases does not mean a whole society is cannibalistic. Cannibalism has been practiced by certain individuals all over the world, including 'civilised' countries such as Germany or Russia. 'The point is,' says Survival International: 'deviant, cruel, psychopathic behaviour can, and does, occur in every society.''There is not one verifiable or credible account from anywhere in the world of a tribal person killing and eating someone out of custom. Some social scientists actually think that all accounts are a myth,' says Stephen Corry, director of Survival International. The NGO believes that the negative publicity many tribal peoples suffer from should be counteracted by stressing the great contributions they have made to the world. Instead of building stories around hair-raising myths about tribal peoples' supposed savagery, articles should be based on reality, 'such as the fact that tribal peoples developed some of the world's food staples (manioc and potato are examples)... and that if it weren't for their botanical wisdom, many medicinal compounds might yet to be discovered.' 'Seeing peoples as savage and useless nuisances is convenient for those who are not interested in their complex, evolving societies, but are eager to get their hands on the minerals beneath their soil, the trees around them and the gold that washes through their rivers,' the NGO states.
'Cannibalism, meaning the custom of eating people for food, has never been reported from anywhere by anyone who did not have a vested interest – usually, the colonial takeover of other peoples' lands, or selling a book or film,' adds Stephen Corry.