The Traveler And North Sentinel Island: Chapter Two

As his shuttle approached North Sentinel Island, the traveler looked at the various information he could gather about the island remotely. He could see that the island was a relatively small one, but was still large enough to support a population of hundreds of people, even with low population densities. From what he could see, the island was surrounded by coral reefs, and it looks as if there had been at least a few shipwrecks that were near the island. Most of the island was flat and with jungle cover, but there was an area that had some hills on the Western part of the island, and it was to that area that he went first, seeking the quietest place possible to park his shuttle without drawing the attention of the inhabitants of the island, whom he knew to be quite unfriendly.

Before undertaking a closer study of the people, the traveler decided it would be a wise idea to reconnoiter the island. This was all the more important of a task because the island was quite sizable, far more than he had realized when taking the assignment. From what he could see, there were no ships or boats that the people on the island had itself. However they had gotten here, they had seemed to have lost the ability to leave again, and were more or less stuck here. This struck the traveler as a rather melancholy thought. He and his people, he mused to himself, were the sort of people who were interested above all in their freedom to travel whenever and wherever they wanted, and often they traveled quite a distance in both space and time from where they happened to live, and so it was hard for him to imagine that people could be content to remain on one remote island for generation after generation, as if they were the only people that mattered in the entire world, much less the entire universe. Such beings, trapped as they were, were likely to be unfriendly to strangers because every tourist was an invader to them.

Why had he been given these people to explore? He could hardly think of a population that was less interested in who he was as a being and his motives for exploration. As he walked around the island, he figured that what he would do first is to wear his cloaking helmet and also take a bag that would allow him to take some DNA samples as well as to set up the recording of voices in the various areas that he expected to find where the people of the island lived. He was relatively fit for his people, probably one reason he had been assigned to this mission, but the first walk he made around the outside of the island took him a whole day to do, even though he stuck to the beaches. In stark contrast to what he had studied about human societies, there were no villages or towns of any kind on the island, nor any group of what he thought of as permanent structures. At least close to the beach there were not many species of plants that he encountered, aside from some very common palm trees which were full of ripe coconuts, all of them pretty common types and not at all endemic to this or any other island.

Of more interest were the other animals he saw around him. When he took a swim around various parts of the island, he found that there were a great many fish species as well as a few species of such animals as eels, sharks, and snakes. Some of these species were more rare, but not rare enough to be unique on the island. It was not until he did a more detailed exploration of the hilly area where he had parked his shuttle that he found a few species that were endemic to the hills above the mostly flat land of the island. Some of these trees were indeed very rare, not only species that had not been seen of ancient and alien trees, but even from families that were fairly rare. The hills on the island were not high, but they were apparently high enough to preserve some aspect of the island’s life from the otherwise monotonous expanse of common jungle plants.

He was able to find some traces of other animals on this land that struck him as worthy of interest. By and large, the life that he found on this island was similar to what had been recorded for the rest of the islands in the chain, with some variations because of the further isolation of this island. And his explorations, if they did not exactly provide him with as much as he expected that was entirely unique, did at last reveal to him the sorts of living that the people here on this island did. He was able to see that if there were no villages that were particularly obvious, that there were at least rather temporary and flexible dwellings that indicated there was a fair amount of people moving about in ranges. He recorded the groups of people he saw engaged in hunting or foraging expeditions, saw about how far they tended to like to wander from their homes, and saw that there were pretty stable ranges for several hundred people that somewhat overlapped but only slightly, providing places where different groups of people could interact to engage in trade if they so chose.

He made sure to leave recording equipment wherever he saw people congregate, be it at key places along the streams he saw on the island, the waterfalls that came off of the hills, the caves where he gathered that people were likely to be buried, the temporary houses where people stayed for weeks and months at a time, depending on the quality of local food, as well as the boundary places between the different ranges of smaller groups that he saw. Much to his pleasure, he saw that his presence on the island had not yet invited a harsh response from the islanders whom he tended to keep at least some distance from at this time. While he did not fear the wrath of the islanders, he knew that his mission would be particularly unsuccessful if they saw him or interacted with him prematurely. It was not his intent to wipe out this tribe, or convert them to his wandering ways, only to study them and understand them, even if to do so was not with their knowledge or consent.

This troubled the traveler, and he noted the issue to himself when he rested in his shuttle in the cool of the evening. He remembered that while he had been taking classes with other young travelers that there had been a lively debate about whether or not it was right to study others without their consent, and there had been fierce arguments on both sides. Some argued that it was entirely wrong to study sentient beings–and as lacking in development as these people were, they were certainly sentient beings–without their knowledge and consent, while others argued on pragmatic grounds that in some cases it was impossible to get consent and furthermore that it was only in studying people without their knowledge and awareness that you got a true idea of what they were like, because their awareness of your curiosity would shape and affect the information that you were able to obtain about them. As he mused to himself about this problem, he thought that clearly in this case, this was a situation where it had been decided by someone–someone far above his own pay grade–that this particular assignment would be one that required studying people without their consent and knowledge and even against their own obvious and clearly expressed wishes. He wondered why this was the case, and if this was something that was generally the case or not.

Even so, despite the fact that he found himself deeply isolated in this place–and probably felt that isolation more than even the people who lived here on this island and knew nothing else about the universe as a whole except what they could see from their island prison–he found much of interest in observing the small groups of hunter-gatherers around him. The people of this island were undoubtedly at a far lower level of technology and civilization than most of the people of this particular place and time. Sol 3, at least form what he had seen, was a world that he could mostly understand. It had a lot of variation in the way that its people lived, but at least a great many of those people lived lives that he could at least understand, even if they were far inferior to his own people and their way of life. It must be admitted, though, that they did live a planetary life as opposed to a more mobile life on spaceships, and that was itself going to lead to a great many differences in how they approached problems and how they understood themselves.

Still, despite the obvious inferiority of the people of this island in some aspects, he found that in other areas they were remarkably alert to aspects of life. He observed their foraging and was very impressed at their knowledge of the local flora and fauna. In particular, he observed the way that they were very highly discriminating in the mushrooms and berries and other plants that they foraged for, and he noted the very precise conditions that they were able to notice as well as the distinctions that they made between those species which were edible and those times where plants and fungi were at their best and those times when they were either not yet ripe or had begun to spoil. It was by no means easy to make such determinations, and he was impressed at the level of knowledge these people had about the conditions of the island where they had made their home. Truly, these people had an expert and indeed an encyclopedic knowledge of their home, acquired over many generations of observation and passing down this knowledge, and that increased his respect for these people.

Similarly, when he saw the hunting that these people did, with their use of spears, sometimes thrown at considerable distance in the forests and meadows and their use of bows and arrows being particularly effective. The ferocity of the inhabitants of the island was on full display not only in the way that the people of the island hunted animals with considerable skill in weapons use, even if those weapons were admittedly pretty primitive–but also in the way that the different groups of people sometimes made raids on other areas when it looked like trade deals went bad. Groups of men would stalk their way through the forest approaching another group’s range, and if that group was not vigilant enough, there would be a fight at the fords or stretch of beach or clear patch in the middle of the jungle where the boundary between the two groups were at. From what the traveler could see, it did not take much to provoke these people to deadly fury, and it was a source of wonder to him that they had managed to endure on this island as long as they had, given their quick and easy recourse to bloodshed in the face of disagreements and concern.

As the days passed on, the traveler not only focused on traveling through the island as a whole but also making studies of particular ranges in particular. He noted the areas of the island that were different than other areas, and made maps of the various groups that were present on the island and started to note at least how these areas and the people and resources in them might be distinguished. It was clear to him, at least as he spent more time observing the island, that there was a lot more diversity here than might be readily obvious to someone who was just encountering the island for the first time or imagining how it would be in the absence of close observation. It was striking to the traveler to see that even on a small and isolated island that there was enough difference to mark people as being separate, and that people even in extreme isolation were not driven to be united by their shared experience of living where they did. It was a lesson that the traveler found particularly poignant and worth reflecting on for some time.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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