The most reclusive humans in the world
In November 2018, American John Chau fell victim to the arrows of people living on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands near India. The entire world was suddenly reminded of the existence of the Sentinelese, a tribe of about 150 people who seek only one thing—to be left alone. The Sentinelese are not the only ones who have remained totally isolated, or almost, from the rest of humanity. Here are 20 places where humans still live in microsocieties despite today’s modern technology that continues to shrink our world one byte at a time.
The Sentinelese of Andaman and Nicobar (India)
The Sentinelese people, who inhabit India’s Andaman Islands, were first encountered in the 19th century. Hostile to outsiders, they usually welcome strangers to the island with a volley of arrows, striving to protect their environment, and systematically refusing to engage in any sort of exchange. The metal used to decorate their possessions comes from shipwrecks, and they have no knowledge of agriculture. The death of a young American, killed almost immediately upon landing on the island’s coast in November 2018, reminded the rest of humanity of the existence of this population of just 150 souls.
The Inuit (Greenland, Alaska, and the Canadian Arctic)
With a territory that stretches from the Bering Strait to eastern Greenland, the Inuit population is spread out over more than 6,000 kilometres (3,728 miles) of land hostile to human survival. In the mid-19th century, European and North American whalers began frequenting the area on a regular basis, bringing with them illnesses that took hundreds of Inuit lives. Mining raw materials remains a major source of revenue for this population.
The Korowai Tribe (Indonesia-New Guinea)
The Korowai live in treetop homes built about 40 metres (140 feet) above the ground and were “discovered” in 1974 during a scientific expedition into the extreme western portion of Indonesia. The Korowai were convinced that they were the only people in the world and believed that white men were demons bringing famine, disease, and destruction. Acknowledged to have been cannibals until only recently, they have established a sort of peace with the outside world and are profiting from curious visitors from all over the planet. In addition to protecting their residents from jungle animals and invading neighbours, their lofty homes have attracted interested tourists.
Hidden Amazonian Tribes (Brazil)
Over 60 tribes apparently still live in the jungles of Brazil and bordering countries. The Vale do Javari (Javari Valley), about the size of Austria, is home to around 20 tribes comprised of approximately 3,000 individuals. Nearly two-thirds of this population has had very little or no contact with the outside world. The Brazilian government launched programs in the 1970s and ’80s to reach out to these tribes, but as a result introduced diseases deep within the jungle which drastically reduced native numbers. The threat of constant deforestation continues to disrupt their lives.
Buddhist Monks of Paro Taktsang (Bhutan)
You’ve got to be in good shape and absolutely determined to pay a visit to this magnificent monastery sitting at an altitude of nearly 10 000 feet. Surrounded by vegetation and shrouded in fog, the most famous of Bhutan’s Buddhist sites seems to literally disappear from the mountainside. A slow two-hour climb will get you to the cliff on which it sits. Its residents only leave to procure necessities. Difficult access to this isolated location has had serious consequences. A fire destroyed the entire complex in April 1998 because emergency services could not intervene.
The Surma (Ethiopia)
The Surma people, locally known as the Suri, are slowly disappearing along with centuries of their culture and history. One of their most well-known customs involves the insertion of a disturbingly large disk into the lower lip of women who have reached the age of marriage. Today, there are over 32,000 people living in villages with populations ranging from 40 to over 2,000 inhabitants in southwest Ethiopia and South Sudan’s Omo Valley. Monoculture and major projects (like dams) have made life for these tribes difficult.
Faroe Islands (Kingdom of Denmark)
Did you know that there are heavily populated islands north of Scotland, midway between Norway and Iceland? Welcome to the Faroe Islands, part of the Kingdom of Denmark and home to 50,000 resolute inhabitants who speak their own language and take advantage of their remote location to exercise considerable political autonomy. Half of the residents of this 18-island archipelago live in the capital Torshavn. Jancy, an elderly woman, is the mail carrier on Mykines Island, where she has lived with eight other people all of her life.
McMurdo Station (Antarctica)
Antarctica’s largest community is found at McMurdo, a scientific station built in 1956 on Ross Island, where up to 1,258 people live each summer. According to some who have spent time there, living and working in McMurdo’s arid conditions (record temperatures reach -50 degrees Celsius or -58 degrees Fahrenheit) is like being on Mars. A permanently installed camera allows visual access to the site at all times.
Concordia Station (Antarctica)
Will human beings be able to survive the difficult conditions of space exploration? The European Space Agency has discovered a way to find out. They’ve sent a 13-person research team to Concordia Station, the most isolated location on the planet. Even the International Space Station is easier to reach, and it’s floating in space! To get a better idea of what this place is like, imagine being completely surrounded by 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) of snow and ice. Beyond that, picture the icy waters of the ocean. Your nearest human neighbour, if you’re lucky, is warming his or her toes about 600 km (373 miles) away at another scientific station.
Migingo Island, Lake Victoria
This tiny island, measuring 0.002 km² (0.5 acre), or half a soccer field, located in Lake Victoria is at the heart of a dispute between Uganda and Kenya. Migingo is Africa’s most densely populated island, with over 130 fishermen in addition to families, merchants, and others. In short, between 500 and perhaps 1,000 people live on this rock completely obscured beneath makeshift shelters. Residents, however, have everything they need. There are four pubs, a pharmacy, a church, a doctor (who’s also a pastor), a barber, a restaurant, and … a brothel. The locally brewed alcohol is a strong liquor made from bananas that you’d be advised to drink prudently.
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The Sami People (Scandinavia)
The Sami people are Scandinavia’s only recognized Indigenous group. They’ve lived in the arctic and subarctic regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and northwest Russia for over 5,000 winters. Slow assimilation into bordering communities hasn’t been for everyone though, and several still live in isolated villages practising their traditional occupation of keeping caribou herds. Today, over 2,500 Sami follow this way of life, raising caribou for their milk, fur, meat, and even as a way of transportation! A semi-darkness constantly shrouds their nearly 250,000-km² (96,525 mi²) territory at the end of the world, where they have lived for centuries.
Saint Helena Island (South Atlantic)
Famous for being the home of a certain exiled French emperor until his death on a certain day in May 1821, Saint Helena Island (a British territory) measures 122 square kilometres (47 mi.²). The volcanic island is only accessible by sea via a five-day ferry from Cape Town in South Africa. An airport, built in 2016 for $374 million, now links the island’s 4,500 residents to the rest of the world.
Tristan da Cunha (South Atlantic)
Located near Saint Helena Island and held under British authority, Tristan da Cunha is home to 275 people descended from about 15 European and American immigrants. As proof, there are only seven family names on the entire island. Television only arrived in 2001, and it’s about time, too, as it rains an average of 20 days per month. Don’t look for any swimming pools. There are no restaurants or hotels, and your credit card will be worthless, but they have their own stamps.
Pitcairn Islands (South Pacific)
Most of the fifty or so inhabitants living on the Pitcairn Islands are direct descendants of mutineers from the HMS Bounty and their Tahitian companions who took refuge there in 1789. Electricity and internet access are available and the surroundings are quite beautiful, but this has not been enough to attract new residents. Interestingly, the islands legalized same-sex marriage in 2015…even though no gay couples live there.
Yaifo Tribe (Papua New Guinea)
The Yaifo is one of the world’s most dangerous tribes. All strangers are seen as demons from which they must protect themselves. To get there, you have to paddle for up to a month along a twisting river. The alternative, a six-week trek through dense jungle, isn’t much better. But, that didn’t stop British explorer Benedict Allen from making the trip. The tribe ended up accepting him, but not without leaving him with some scars.
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The Nenets are a nomadic people who migrate, year in and year out, over a distance of nearly 1,500 km (932 mi.), crossing the frozen Ob River with their caribou herds. The Nenets depend on their nearly 300,000 animals for survival, using their meat and fur for food and shelter. When the men leave to cross the Siberian arctic tundra, they leave behind the women and elderly who suffer from terrible loneliness.
Mashco-Piro Tribe (Peru)
Nearly 14 tribes—approximately 5,000 people—live in partial to complete isolation in Peru’s Amazon region. Several groups have fallen victim to illegal loggers and drug dealers, but the sudden appearance of everyday illnesses, like the common cold, has had more immediate impact. Since 2014, the Mashco-Piro tribe has sought out help, asking for food, clothing, and transportation. Some tourism companies are even offering “human safaris” along the river.
Palawan Tribe (Philippines)
Like many others, the members of this community—approximately 40,000—are suffering from mining and urban development in the Philippines. Several have managed to continue to live in isolation by clearing and cultivating a bit of land before letting the forest reclaim it. A road built in 2000 pushed them further into the interior. Palawan tribe members primarily grow rice, harvest honey, and hunt wild pigs.
Approximately 500 people live in this small Russian town where darkness reigns for 21 out of every 24 hours. Average temperatures of -58 degrees Celsius (-72 degrees Fahrenheit) make it the coldest inhabited place on the planet. Plus, just for fun, it takes two days by car to get there. All agriculture is clearly impossible, and natives sometimes serve their macaroni with frozen cubes of horse blood, but the landscape is breathtaking.
The International Space Station
We tend to forget that a small group of humans has continuously occupied this structure stretching the length of a soccer field since 2000. It’s hard to imagine being more isolated, but the ISS team is actually only 400 km (249 mi.) away from us. Circling the Earth every 90 minutes, the astronauts aboard see 16 sunrises/sunsets each day.
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