Sentinel, by Mandy Macdonald

On 17 November 2018, a young American missionary who tried to land illegally on the remote North Sentinel Island (pop. c. 100), one of the Andaman and Nicobar group in the Indian Ocean, was the latest person to be killed by the island’s inhabitants, who violently repel all outsiders. Since the 1990s the Indian government, which is responsible for the island, has declared it out of bounds to visitors so that the Sentinelese can be left alone.

 

a people at least
thirty thousand years old
living on what their island provides
naked, handsome, happy
(or so we imagine)
officially ‘uncontacted’
in fact uncontactable
by their own wish
which they enforce by attacking
anyone who tries to land

we want to know about them
of course
……………….how they live, how they survive
how can an island of twenty-three square miles
……………….support them for so many millennia?
can their needs be so modest?
have they solved the problem of overpopulation
in some way
……………….we might disapprove of?
has nature herself set limits
on their fecundity?

so we send emissaries, confident
we can help
we know what they want

they want Jesus
they want money
they want booze
they want pop music
they want the internet
but most of all, they want
clothes
and Coke

some of our gifts
they use –
metal salvaged from broken ships
for arrowheads
bits of the bright plastic tide we send
to slosh against their shores
just once – in 1991 – a gift boat of coconuts
brought them down to their beach
in friendship, or truce
……………….(they like coconuts
……………….but coconuts don’t grow
……………….on North Sentinel Island)

everyone else
they drive off with cries
in their language that no-one else understands
and arrows

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