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Six disastrous encounters with the world’s most hostile uncontacted tribe
From questionable shipwrecks to outright attacks, they clearly don't want to be bothered.
- Many have tried to contact the Sentinelese, to write about them, or otherwise.
- But the inhabitants of the 23 square mile island in the Bay of Bengal don't want anything to do with the outside world.
- Their numbers are unknown, but either 40 or 500 remain.
Between waves of refugees, armed conflicts, and bickering over oil reserves, the world feels like it's become a rather small place. The world may be shrinking, but some people are still fighting to keep a little space for themselves. North Sentinel Island serves as a perfect example.
The island has an area of about 23 square miles and is surrounded by a natural barricade of coral reefs. It lies east of India in the Bay of Bengal, and it is home to one of the very last uncontacted tribes on the planet. There are between 40 and 500 members of the Sentinelese living on the island, although it's impossible to estimate their exact numbers.
The Sentinelese are perhaps the most aggressive uncontacted tribe that exists. Nearly every attempt at contact has ended in disaster and sometimes death. Below are six accounts of these attempts at contact.
1880: The British Empire’s famous hospitality
Photo taken by Maurice Vidal Portman of an Andamanese man in the 1890s. The Andaman Islands are the closest land masses to North Sentinel Island.
Maurice Vidal Portman/Creative Commons
During their imperialist period, the British had something of an unusual protocol when it came to unfriendly tribes. If a tribe refused to be contacted or were aggressive toward British colonists, they would kidnap a member of the tribe, supply the prisoner with gifts and treat them well, and free their captive shortly after. In theory, the captive would return to the tribe with reports of generous (if somewhat socially inept) outsiders.
This is the approach that Maurice Vidal Portman took during one of the first explorations of the island. At first, the Sentinelese fled into the jungle at the approach of Portman and his men. Eventually, they stumbled across an elderly couple and some children who couldn't flee fast enough.
As if this kidnapping protocol wasn't bad enough, Portman decided to abduct these elderly people and children. The elderly Sentinelese couple soon grew ill, likely because Portman and his men were carrying a variety of Western diseases that had never reached the island before. In a few days, the couple had died.
The British gave the children a variety of gifts for the tribe and released them back into the jungle minus two grandparents. It seems unlikely that the Sentinelese appreciated this. After this first point of contact, the tribe were more overtly hostile to outsiders.
1970: India explores its new lands
When India gained its independence from Britain, many islands in the area were handed over to India as well, including North Sentinel Island. A few decades later, India decided to make contact with the Sentinelese, using a more scientific and gentler approach than the British.
They made a series of attempts at contact, each headed by the anthropologist Triloknath Pandit. Armed police and naval officers joined Pandit for protection. For the most part, the group would observe the islanders from the safety of boats moored far from the shoreline.
In 1970, however, Pandit's ship strayed too close to the beaches of the island. Several men from the tribe began aiming their bows at the boat, shouting, and behaving aggressively. Pandit reported that several of them squatted on their haunches as though they were defecating. He read this as a kind of insult.
As if this wasn't unusual enough, women quickly emerged from the tree line and paired off with each man on the beach. Each couple embraced passionately in what appeared to be a mass mating display. Under these conditions, the hostile atmosphere evaporated, the tribe eventually returned to the forest, and Pandit's expedition returned to India.
1974: National Geographic attacked
By now, knowledge of the elusive tribe had spread far enough that National Geographic sent a crew there to film a documentary. As the National Geographic boat crossed through an opening in the island's reef barrier, they were greeted with a hail of arrows.
This barrage missed the boat, which pressed on toward the shore despite the assault. The police who accompanied the documentary crew landed on the shore and left a series of gifts for the Sentinelese in the hopes that future encounters would be on friendlier terms. The gifts were an unusual mix of the useful and potentially amusing: aluminum cookware; a toy car; coconuts; a doll; and a live, tied-up pig.
As the police deposited the crew's gifts on the shore, another volley of arrows issued from the tree line. This time, the documentary's director was struck in the thigh, and the crew rushed back to their boats. Crew members reported that the man who shot the arrow laughed proudly while his tribesmen continued the attack until the boats had retreated out of range.
The encounter didn't end here, however: the crew wanted to see how their gifts were received. The Sentinelese retrieved the cookware and coconuts. In a bizarre act, the man who had shot the documentary director took the pig and doll and buried them in the sand. You can watch some of this footage below:
1981: The plight of the Primrose
The wreckage of The Primrose, visible on Google Earth
In India, August is monsoon season. During one of these windy rainstorms, a freighter ship called the Primrose struck one of the coral reefs that surround North Sentinel Island and was stranded along with its 28 sailors. With little to do but wait, the sailors slept through the storm.
When they awoke the next morning, the captain immediately broadcasted an urgent message to Hong Kong: On the nearby shore of the island, dozens of Sentinelese were aiming their spears and arrows at the grounded ship. The captain asked for an airdrop of weapons to defend themselves. The next day, their situation had worsened. The Sentinelese were constructing boats to sail to the coral reef where the Primrose had run aground.
Because of the strong storms during this season, it was impossible to send an immediate airdrop of firearms. However, this meant that the Sentinelese were also unable to sail out to the Primrose. The crew was stranded off the coast of North Sentinel Island for nearly a week until the weather had cleared enough for a rescue helicopter to arrive and ferry the men off of the ship. As the helicopter made a series of trips to the boat, the Sentinelese fired arrows at it in an attempt to drive it off.
1991: Pandit makes progress
Triloknath Pandit continued to make attempts at contact after his 1970 visit. Finally, in 1991, he had some measure of success. Pandit and his crew landed on the beach and were met by an unarmed group of 28 Sentinelese, a mixture of men, women, and children.
Despite the progress, the Sentinelese made it clear that there were limits to what outsiders could and could not do. Some of Pandit's crew were resting in a dinghy that had begun to drift away from the island while he remained on shore. Seeing this, one Sentinelese man drew a knife and threatened Pandit with it. This drifting dinghy made it seem like Pandit intended to stay on the island while his companions sailed off, something that the Sentinelese would not tolerate. The dinghy was brought back to shore, and Pandit sailed off again.
Soon after this visit and despite the progress, it was decided that further contact with these people would not be advisable. With a group so obviously inhospitable to the outside world, to force that world upon them would serve neither the Sentinelese nor global community much good. What's more, continued contact put the Sentinelese at risk. They harbor few defenses against the larger world's illnesses, as demonstrated by the British's first attempt at contact in 1880. For the most part, the islanders were left to their own devices.
2006: Drunk poachers stray too close
Soon after Pandit's successful visit, the Indian government began enforcing an exclusion zone around the island, with heavy fines and jail time to act as deterrents. Despite this, two poachers entered the exclusion zone in 2006 to hunt for mud crabs. As night came, they dropped their anchor some distance from the island and started to drink heavily.
Sometime during the night, the anchor became unstuck. As the men slept, their boat drifted into the coral reefs surrounding the island. They were immediately killed by the Sentinelese the next morning, who buried their bodies into the beach. When a helicopter came to retrieve their bodies, the islanders drove it off with a volley of arrows.
The Indian government's official position is that the islanders are a sovereign people with the right to defend their borders. The Sentinelese would not be prosecuted for killing the poachers. To arrest and prosecute a Sentinelese tribesman would be clearly absurd anyhow.
Since this incident, no further contact has been made with the tribe. Aircraft and satellites keep an eye on the island, occasionally checking in to confirm the tribe's continued existence after major storms. While curiosity about the tribe remains strong, curiosity appears to be the only real reason left to make contact. In the face of the Sentinelese's clear preference for isolation, violating that isolation in the name of curiosity alone seems selfish.
Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.
- Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
- The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
- The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Airspeeder, the world's newest motorsport, is set to debut its first race in 2021.
What can you expect to see? Something like a mix between Red Bull's air racing and the pod-racing scenes from "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" — manned electric cars flying close together in the desert at 120 mph, nose-diving off cliffs, and racing over lakes, all while hopefully avoiding collisions.
Airspeeder calls its vehicles flying electric cars, but it's probably easier to think of the wheelless multicopters as car-sized drones. Powered by electric batteries, the carbon-fiber craft use eight propellers to fly, and the tiltable motors are designed to allow pilots to navigate through the course's pylons at high speeds.
To prevent crashes, Airspeeder is working with the companies Acronis and Teknov8 to develop "high-speed collision avoidance" systems for its Speeders.
"As they compete, Speeders will utilise cutting-edge LiDAR and Machine Vision technology to ensure close but safe racing, with defined and digitally governed no-fly areas surrounding spectators and officials," Airspeeder wrote in a blog post.
Beyond motorsports, Airspeeder hopes to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector. This sector is where companies like Uber, Hyundai, and Airbus are working to develop air taxis, which could someday take the ridesharing industry into the skies. By 2040, the autonomous urban aircraft industry could be worth $1.5 trillion, according to a 2019 report from Morgan Stanley.
Still, many technical and regulatory hurdles remain. Matt Pearson, Airspeeder's founder and CEO, thinks the futuristic motorsport will help to not only speed up that process, but also pave the way for self-driving cars.
"Even with autonomous vehicles on the ground, it's a difficult thing to get right because computers have to make decisions very fast," Airspeeder's founder and CEO, Matt Pearson, told GQ." But in a racing environment, you have a pretty controlled course and you have the ability to make all the vehicles cooperate with each other. You have a whole load of vehicles talking to each other, so if there's an incident or a pilot slows down or there's a traffic jam on the course they're all aware of each other. This is something we think will revolutionise autonomous vehicles on the ground. It's technology that will make flying cars a reality in our cities in the future."
Airspeeder has yet to announce a date for the first race, but Pearson said he hopes to put on three races over the first season. The company is developing two courses: one in California's Mojave Desert, and one near Coober Pedy in South Australia.
The way you speak might reveal a lot about you, such as your willingness to engage in casual sex.
- A new study finds a deeper voice is associated with self-reported extraversion, dominance, and casual sex.
- It was the first study on the topic to objectively measure voice pitch.
- The authors suggest that hormones like testosterone might explain their findings.
We make snap decisions about other people based on information that we can gather quickly. One of the many ways that we do this is by making bold conclusions about other people's personalities based on their voices alone. Various studies demonstrate that people associate a deep voice with dominance, but those with higher pitched voices are perceived as nervous or neurotic. Popular culture seems to agree with and reinforce these stereotypes.
Are these perceptions accurate? Maybe. A new study by an international team of researchers with the goal of more accurately determining what our voices reveal about us has demonstrated that there is some connection between how we sound and who we think we are.
The voice-personality connection
Lead author Dr. Julia Stern of the University of Göttingen explained:
"Even if we just hear someone's voice without any visual clues — for instance on the phone — we know pretty soon whether we're talking to a man, a woman, a child, or an older person. We can pick up on whether the person sounds interested, friendly, sad, nervous, or whether they have an attractive voice. We also start to make assumptions about trust and dominance. The first step was to investigate whether voices are, indeed, related to people's personality."
The study included data from 2,000 people from four countries involved in eleven previous independent studies focused on other questions. Each of these studies involved some kind of self-reporting of personality traits and vocal recordings. The recordings were analyzed with Praat, software that determined the frequencies of the participants' speaking voices.
The study is the largest ever conducted on the topic and the first to use an objective measure of pitch rather than subjective rankings such as "high pitched" or "deep." Each participant's vocal pitch was then compared to the self-reported personality data they provided.
The findings associated self-reported levels of dominant tendencies, extroversion, and increased interest in and acceptance of sociosexuality (casual sex or sex outside of a relationship) with a lower pitched voice. This was true for men and women of any age. The findings were in line with the previous, less robust studies on the subject.
Other stereotypes, like if a higher pitched voice hints at neuroticism, openness to new experiences, or agreeableness, were impossible to determine with the data at hand.
Voice isn't everything
It should be remembered that the personality traits that this study associates with vocal pitch are self-reported, so there are some serious limitations. For instance, it is entirely possible that vocal pitch is associated with thinking you're extroverted when you actually aren't. Furthermore, all four countries in the study are WEIRD, so the findings probably cannot be universalized.
Additionally, there are plenty of examples of people for whom the voice-personality link doesn't apply. For example, Teddy Roosevelt, an extremely extroverted, dominating man, had a fairly high pitched voice.
The authors do speculate that there could be a connection between testosterone levels in men, their vocal pitch, and their perceived level of dominance that would be supported by previous studies. However, they have no hypothesis explaining why that same relationship exists for women.
The authors suggest that further studies in this area could focus on finding a possible physical connection between these traits and vocal pitch and to determine if they hold for traits which are not self-reported.
Who needs steroids when you have the placebo effect?
- A study suggests that the effectiveness of sports drinks may depend in part on their color.
- Runners who rinsed with a pink liquid ran better than those who consumed the same but colorless drink.
- Improvement in their performance is likely due to a placebo effect.
The "placebo effect" is real. It's the name for a strange phenomenon that most notably occurs during clinical trials. People who are given an inactive substance, like a sugar pill, often experience the same therapeutic benefit as those who are given actual medicine. It's not their imagination — it really happens. (Even better, recent research suggests that therapeutic benefits occur even when the person knows that they were given a placebo.)
Now, a new study from the University of Westminster (UOW) Centre for Nutraceuticals in London and published in Frontiers in Nutrition suggests that the placebo effect may explain yet another phenomenon: Athletic performance.
The research showed that treadmill runners who rinsed their mouths with a pink liquid increased their performance over runners who swished with exactly the same liquid but without the coloring. Why pink? The color is generally linked to sweetness, and the researchers wondered if that association would subconsciously trick the runners into an expectation of more carbohydrates and thus energy.
Author Sanjoy Deb explains:
"The influence of color on athletic performance has received interest previously, from its effect on a sportsperson's kit to its impact on testosterone and muscular power. Similarly, the role of color in gastronomy has received widespread interest, with research published on how visual cues or color can affect subsequent flavor perception when eating and drinking."
Running for science
Credit: Ryan De Hamer / Unsplash
For the study, the researchers recruited ten healthy adults — six men, four women. All were regular exercisers, with an average age of 30. The participants were told that they would be testing the relative benefits of two commercial sports drinks after watching a brief video explaining the value of such beverages. Previous research found that mid-exercise rinsing with such drinks can reduce the perceived intensity of exercise.
The drinks consisted of 0.12 grams of sucralose dissolved in 500 mL of plain water — an artificially sweetened rinse low in calories. The liquids contained no other additives common to sports drinks such as caffeine. The pink version had non-caloric coloring added but was otherwise identical.
After a 12-minute warmup phase of jogging followed by running, the athletes ran at a difficult pace for 30 minutes, rinsing with their drinks as they ran. Following a brief cool-down, they were interviewed to capture their impressions of the exercise session. (Each runner tested both drinks.)
The researchers found that when the volunteers used the pink rinse, they ran an average of 212 meters farther and 4.4 percent faster. They also enjoyed the exercise more.
Deb said, "The findings from our study combine the art of gastronomy with performance nutrition, as adding a pink colorant to an artificially sweetened solution not only enhanced the perception of sweetness, but also enhanced feelings of pleasure, self-selected running speed, and distance covered during a run."
The researchers also plan to dig deeper into the phenomenon by investigating the possibility that the pinkness of the beverage is somehow directly activating the brain's reward areas.