Might aliens have the same reasons for not contacting us, as we do have for not contacting the Sentinelese people in the Indian ocean? What can we learn about alien contact from the relationship between a technologically highly developed civilization and one that still uses stone-age technology for possible future contact with aliens?
There is one small island in the Indian Ocean, which is part of the Andaman Islands, formally part of India on which one of the last uncontacted people of our world lives. North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese people, a tribe that is believed to live there – more or less isolated – for 60 000 years! The Sentinelese people seem to live as a hunter-gatherer society that doesn’t use fire or agriculture.
Why are they uncontacted?
But why does this ancient tribe still don’t have any contact with the outside world? There seem to be several reasons.
- There island is relatively small (around 60km²) and did not have a lot of value for either the British Empire or the modern Indian State.
- The Sentinelese seem to be quite aggressive towards foreign intruders. They regularly shoot arrows at helicopters and boats and killed two fishermen that stranded there in 2006.
- The speak a language that is still unclassified and differs a lot form the Jarawa language of their neighbours that live on a neighbouring island only 30 km away.
There have been several attempts of contact, by the British Empire, the National Geographic Magazine and the Indian government, but all failed for several reasons. On this part of the article, we want to make sure that we don’t want to judge the Sentinelese people in any way, many indigenous people who were open to Western Empires or were not hostile towards them paid often with loss of their independence or even complete extinction (as the Jangil people that lived close to the Sentinelese or the indigenous people of Tasmania and Haiti).
The Zoo-hypothesis and the Sentinelese
But what does this have to do with extra-terrestrial intelligence? The Fermi paradox is the question that basically goes as the following: “If space is so big, where are the aliens?” One of many hypothetical answers to this question is the zoo-hypothesis, which goes basically like this: “They are probably observing Earth, but they don’t contact us because they don’t want to interfere with our social and political development. Once we pass a certain point, alien contact might happen.” The Sentinel islands are not far away in another solar system, they are only 30 km away from populated 21st century land, full of modern people, cars and internet. However, we are not contacting this small group of humans for several reasons.
- We are afraid that it would disrupt their society.
- It’s not so easy. We don’t know their language, their laws and cultural traditions.
- We can learn a lot from a society that is untouched by the modern world.
- They seem to be hostile towards us.
- They are unable to reach us anyway, but we can observe their behaviour without risk.
- Their small island is not that important for our civilization
Now take the six points above and change in your mind modern 21st century humankind and the Sentinelese with a possible extra-terrestrial civilization and Earth. Every once in a while, a helicopter or a drone flies over the island resulting in aggression, hiding, awe and maybe fear from its inhabitants. Are these reactions comparable to the occasional UFO that people are seeing in the night skies? Do the Sentinelese also discuss the possibility of contact with the outside world (i.e. “alien contact”) and the technological miracles it will bring them? In the 1980 two shipping containers were washed on the shores of the isolated island, the natives where examining them and captured several items from them that they included in their daily use. That’s exactly what we would do if a UFO would crash on our planet, examine it and try to figure out some of the technology for our use.
Part of India, without knowing it
Legally the Sentinelese island is part of the Indian state and subject to its law. The Sentinelese are counted in the Census of India (officially 15 individuals, but estimates go up to 500) but in reality, they have complete independence over their island. However, one day they might discover that for all that time they were living as part of the Indian State and were breaking Indian Laws (by for example killing to stranded fishermen). Will we have one day the same epiphany? Will we discover that we are already part of an interplanetary state, but allowed the freedom to develop? The Sentinelese are unable to reach us, because it is known that they are not building ships that can reach the next island over open sea, we are not even yet able to fly a manned mission to our closest neighbouring planet, Mars. Would we contact the Sentinelese if they changed sufficiently inside their tribe to be able to contact us in a peaceful way, or when they start to build ships and intend to explore the Indian ocean, sufficiently far that they are able to reach the next inhabited island? Will we make similar experiences when our social and political development makes a qualitative step forward or when we are able to engage in interstellar travel?