What is the most isolated culture on Earth -- and what can we learn from it?

Learning from the Sentinelese

Feel like being target practice? Then just get within about 50 feet of North Sentinel Island!
Feel like being target practice? Then just get within about 50 feet of North Sentinel Island!

So, what can we learn from the Sentinelese? Well, not an awful lot since they aren't exactly fond of visitors. Occasionally, they'll let giddy anthropologists give them some coconuts, but that's about as far as that goes. Sometimes they'll take the coconuts, but still fire off a few rounds to encourage a speedy departure.

One thing we could learn, however, if they were in the mood to teach us and we could actually understand what on earth they were saying, would be their secret to tsunami survival. The Sentinelese apparently not only know when a tsunami is approaching, but also how to survive an apocalyptic wall of water on a tiny island that's only about 28 square miles (72 square kilometers) in size, with peaks no more than 320 feet (98 meters) above sea level. It seems their attentiveness to nature -- possibly the ocean, the earth, the fauna or all three -- is pretty fine-tuned, because when rescue workers stopped by to see if the elusive tribe had survived a direct hit from the colossal tsunami in December 2004, they found themselves -- you guessed it -- looking down the business end of a bow and arrow.

That's not the only kind of weapon the Sentinelese use to intimidate anybody tenacious enough to try to roll out the welcome mat on behalf of, well, modern civilization and pretty much everyone else on the planet. The Sentinelese make use of all sorts of flotsam that washes up on their beaches. Uninvited guests, therefore, have had the pleasure of being threatened with not just rocks and regular arrows, but also iron-tipped arrows, along with iron-tipped wooden adzes and iron-bladed knives. Good times!

One thing we sure wouldn't learn from the Sentinelese is how to make fire -- apparently they haven't picked up on that particular skill, although they could show us how to keep embers lit by a lightning strike smoldering for long periods of time in hollowed-out trees.

So if you were looking to learn some survival skills, the Sentinelese would be some good people to go to. Satisfy your curiosity concerning the elusive tribe, survival stories and distant destinations by exploring the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Did Island Tribes Use Ancient Lore to Evade Tsunami?" National Geographic News. Jan. 24, 2005. (4/14/2010) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/01/0125_050125_tsunami_island.html
  • Foster, Peter. "Stone Age tribe kills fishermen." The Sydney Morning Herald. Feb. 9, 2006. (4/14/2010) http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/stone-age-tribe-kills-fishermen/2006/02/08/1139379571616.html#
  • Goodheart, Adam. "The Last Island of Savages." The American Scholar. 2000. (4/14/2010) http://www.andaman.org/BOOK/reprints/goodheart/rep-goodheart.htm
  • McDougall, Dan. "Survival comes first for the last Stone Age tribe worldwide." The Observer. Feb. 26, 2006. (4/14/2010) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/feb/12/theobserver.worldnews12
  • Norrington, Bill. "The Most Socially Isolated People on Earth." UC Santa Barbara Geography. Feb. 9, 2010. (4/4/2010) http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/events/department-news/674/quot-the-most-socially-isolated-people-on-earth-quot/
  • Survival Web site. (4/14/2010) http://www.survivalinternational.org/
  • "The most isolated tribe in the world?" http://www.survivalinternational.org/uncontactedtribes/mostisolated
  • "Tsunami: The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami." January 2009. (4/14/2010) http://www.andaman.org/mapstsunami/tsunami.htm#localdisasters
  • Weber, George. "The Tribes." March 30, 2006. http://www.andaman.org/BOOK/chapter8/text8.htm#sentineli