By now we should all be up to date with the news about American JOHN ALLEN CHAU who was killed by the Sentinelese when he illegally approached their home in an attempt to preach the whole “JESUS LOVES YOU” stuff. Many mainstream Western media outlets and some ultra extremist Christian groups have painted the Sentinelese in a negative light and pretty much made Chau to look like some matyr and victim. The Sentinelese have really been painted to look like savages, when really all they were doing was defend themselves from perceived threats invading their home.
The Sentinelese are one of the last remaining tribes untainted and untouched by modern civilization and they number only at 150 in terms of their population. Anyone from the outside entering their island/home jeopardizes the tribe’s population due to outsiders potentially bringing a host of diseases and bacteria which could wipe out the Sentinelese. Obviously Chau didn’t think about that or didn’t care about that – all he cared about was bring the so called “word of God” to people who didn’t want nor need that kind of stuff.
Anyways, you may or may not be aware that the first contact made to the Sentinelese was in 1991, and was made peacefully and respectfully by Indian anthropologist Madhumala Chattopadhyay. In addition to the Sentinelese she also made contact with the Jarawas in Andamans.
Dr Madhumala Chattopadhyay was accepted and trusted by the Jarawas – Here are pictures of her visits to this tribe.
The presence of a woman indicated that the contact party meant no harm. This braveheart anthropologist is Dr Madhumala Chattopadhyay, then a researcher (initially a fellow and subsequently research associate) with the Anthropological Survey of India, who went on to spend six years researching the various primitive tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Madhumala is also the first woman to be accepted by another Andaman tribe, the Jarawas, with whom she established a friendly relationship, especially the women folk. Unfortunately, her accomplishments remain forgotten.
Now, Dr Chattopadhyay lives a humble life and does not ride the coat tails of her accomplishments as an anthropologists. Her book Tribes of Car Nicobar and journal papers are stock standard used for references in universities everywhere. Reading the account of how she and hew crew made contact, it was clear that there was no invasion and getting on the island was seen as an invite rather than what Chau did who pretty much just went onto the island. The crew dropped coconuts for the Sentinelese people and waited in the waters to see how they would respond. All this takes time, as well as an understanding of the culture and the history of the tribe. Here is more on Dr Chattopadhyay’s account of first contact with the Sentinelese ( via The Print India):
As the craft approached the island, three huts came into view. The dreaded Sentinel Island, Madhumala had read so much about, was now in front of her. As the boat inched closer to the shore, Madhumala’s heart beat went up a notch — will the tribe show up? However, the shore looked deserted. Seeing smoke coming out from another part of the island, the contact party steered their boat towards that direction. Suddenly, the Sentinelese were there behind the trees — the most secluded tribe in the world had come into view. Most were men, four of them armed with bows and arrows.
It was now up to the contact team to take initiative, and they started dropping coconuts in the water, which they had brought with them. Then something that had never been seen before happened. After a bit of trepidation, a few Sentinelese men came sprinting and waded through the shallow continental shelf to collect the floating coconuts. The team was awestruck; the Sentinelese had accepted a friendly gesture. The team leader instructed that more coconuts be dropped, and this time the Sentinelese brought a canoe to collect the coconuts in cane baskets. The women and children, however, maintained a distance and remained on the shore. An invisible wall stood between the islanders and the contact team. No party made the first move to bridge the gap further. Four hours rolled by, the contact party kept floating coconuts and the Sentinelese kept collecting them. Perhaps this was the farthest that the Sentinelese would go.
With their stock of coconuts over, the team went back to the ship to replenish. It was 2 pm when the team returned. The process of dropping coconuts started again, and this time the tribe welcomed the contact party with shouts of “Nariyali jaba jaba”. Madhumala recognised this cry to mean “more and more coconuts”, a distinct Onge dialect, given her knowledge of a number of Andamanese languages. The Sentinelese in the second round had become bolder. A young Sentinelese youth waded up to the boat and touched it with his hands. Following him, more men closed in to collect the coconuts.
In this moment of ice-breaking, a Sentinelese youth who was sitting on the shore got up and aimed his arrow at the contact party. Fazed but not betraying fear, Madhumala gestured at the youth to come over and take his share of the coconuts. This was a moment of standoff — Madhumala refusing to remove eye contact and the arrow refusing to go down. The arrow was released but Providence intervened. As the marksman was about to release, a Sentinelese woman standing nearby gave a push to the marksman, and the arrow missed its mark and fell harmlessly in the water. The woman had done that on purpose, thus saving the contact party from severe injury or even death.
Undeterred, the team persisted. It was now the turn of the Sentinelese to be surprised. The contact party, including Madhumala, decided to jump into water. Knee-deep in water, the space-age man (woman) was looking eye-to-eye with one of the most primitive people on earth. It was not a meeting with a finger on the trigger or with a bow string pulled, it was a meeting between equals, with dignity and respect. The coconuts were not being floated in the water anymore, but were being handed over in person. This was the making of anthropological history.
You can read more by clicking on the original article hyperlinked at the bottom. But one thing which needs to be remembered is that the Sentinelese are a protected peoples by the Indian Government and need to remain away from foreigners and outsiders forever really in order to preserve their populations and existence. No matter how you look at it, Chau was an invader and with that he got what he asked for as he wasn’t invited onto the island.
Images via The Print India
To read the original article, please click on: Madhumala Chattopadhyay, the woman who made the Sentinelese put their arrows down