The most isolated people on Earth want to stay that way.

North Sentinel Island, part of India's Andaman and Nicobar archipelagos in the Bay of Bengal, sits just 25 miles off the coast of South Andaman Island and 30 miles away from its developed, globally connected provincial capital of Port Blair.

About 28 square miles of forest, the island is roughly one-fifth larger than Manhattan. All of the other islands in the chain have been explored and their respective native peoples have developed relations with the central government, but no outsider ever sets foot on North Sentinel Island. In fact, New Delhi has set up a three-mile exclusion zone around the island to protect its inhabitants, known as the Sentinelese, who through violent seclusion have remained possibly the most genuinely isolated peoples in the world, likely for thousands of years. And in their isolation, they provide a stark and illuminating contrast with other societies.

The Sentinelese are one of about 100 uncontacted tribes left in the world, most of which live clustered in remote West Papua and the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Peru. But many of these other uncontacted tribes are not totally isolated, as cultural rights organization Survival International points out, over time, most peoples will learn something about their modern neighbors no matter what. However, many uncontacted tribes, either due to past atrocities visited upon themor a lack of interest in what they see of our modern world, choose to remain disengaged. They're not “pristine" or primitive peoples, but rather shifting and dynamic cultures that preserve unique languages, systems of knowledge, and skills. And because they are not completely separated, they're often subject to those who wish to contact them, either to attempt to evangelize and modernize them, or even eradicate them to clear land for development. As such, the Sentinelese are unique even among uncontacted tribes in their isolation from other cultures and external threats.


This doesn't mean that no one has ever run into the Sentinelese.

People have been traveling to the Andaman Islands for at least 1,000 years, and the British and Indians actively colonized the region starting in the 18th century. On most of the islands, even the most remote tribes have been contacted within the last centuryand tribal members have become involved with the larger nation, even taking up posts in the government. And despite laws restricting access to traditionally tribal lands in the 1950s, contact and development still continued illicitly in most of the archipelago.

Yet no one has ever managed to gain a foothold on North Sentinel because the peoples there, throughout recent history, have responded to intruders with extraordinary force. One of the first recorded encounters with the locals of the island involves an escaped Indian convict who washed up on their shores in 1896. He was discovered abandoned on the shore shortly after with his throat sliced, riddled with arrow holes. The fact that even neighboring tribes consider the Sentinelese language utterly incomprehensible suggests that they have maintained this hostile isolation for hundreds or maybe even thousands of years.

India tried for many years to contact the Sentinelese for various reasons—science, paternalistic-style development, or even the idea that mediated contact was safer than random sailors haphazardly confronting the tribe with violence and disease. But the locals successfully hid from the first major anthropological mission in 1967, and fired arrows at the returnees in 1970 and 1973. In 1974, a National Geographic director took an arrow to the leg; in 1981, a stranded freighter had to fight off the Sentinelese for days before help arrived. Throughout the '70s several more individuals were wounded or killed while trying to make contact. Eventually, almost 20 years later, anthropologist Trilokinath Pandit did make tenuous contact several times, having spent years fleeing arrows and leaving gifts of metal and coconuts—he allowed the Sentinelese to undress him and gleaned some basic information about their culture. But recognizing the losses suffered up to that point, the Indian government eventually gave up, ceding to the clear Sentinelese will towards isolation and declaring an official exclusion zone, protecting the tribe's space.

This might be for the best, given what's happened to the other tribes in the Andaman Islands since contact. The Great Andamanese, which numbered around 5,000 at first contact, are now just a few dozen after waves of settlement and development. And the Jarawans, first contacted in 1997, lost 10 percent of their population to measles in the first two years of exposure, suffering endemic disease, dislocation, and sexual abuse by settlers and police ever since. Other tribes, like the Onges, suffer from rampant alcoholism on top of the above offenses and indignities—all a common narrative for people whose cultures have been radically shifted and lives upturned by a dominant superpower unilaterally swarming into their territory.

Sentinelese archer shoots arrows at a helicopter

Meanwhile, video of the Sentinelese—200-plus dark-skinned people, decorated with ochre body paint and fiber bands but otherwise naked—taken from helicopters and on early expeditions seems to indicate that the tribe remains healthy and strong.

We don't know much about their daily lives, save what Pandit gathered from his visits and subsequent video from fly-bys. We believe they eat coconuts, cracked open with their teeth, and hunt turtles, lizards, wild game, and small birds with bows and javelins. We suspect they tip their arrows with metal salvaged from shipwrecks, but otherwise lack modern technology, including the knowledge of how to make fire—they preserve embers from lightning strikes instead. We see them living in thatch lean-to huts, making shallow canoes that cannot move into the open ocean, greeting each other by sitting in each other's laps and slapping their buttocks, and singing in two-note systems. Yet it is entirely possible that all of these observations may just be a flukes or false impressions, given how little hard data we actually have on their culture.

Using DNA from the surrounding tribes and the unique isolation of the Sentinelese language, we suspect that the Sentinelese's singular genetic lineage could go back as far as 60,000 years. That would make them perhaps some of the most direct and uniquely isolated descendants of the first humans to leave Africa that have ever been located. Any geneticist would give an eyetooth for a chance to look at Sentinelese DNA to better understand the history of the human race. Not to mention the fact that the Sentinelese survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamisomehow, which devastated the surrounding islands and wiped out much of their own terrain. They remained unscathed, hiding on higher ground as if they knew the storm was coming, suggesting they retain esoteric knowledge of the weather and environment that we could possibly learn from. All of this is worth protecting and preserving, even if these safeguards ironically mean we will not have access to it as scholars. But if and when the Sentinelese choose to accept contact, then the world at large will surely benefit culturally and scientifically from their previous isolation.

For all of the tribe's luck and effort in maintaining that isolation, there are disturbing signs that the outside world will soon break through to the island by force. In 2006, two fishermen washed up on shore by accident and were murdered by the islanders, prompting a failed mission to retrieve their corpses—the helicopter was repelled by arrows—and an outcry from mainstream Indians calling for justice against the tribe. And just this year, local authorities admitted that the island's waters have become attractive to illegal fishermen, and that some may be setting foot on the island, although there's no indication they've contacted the Sentinelese yet. Confrontation appears imminent. When it comes, perhaps the best we can do is prevent the kind of atrocities that may have moved the Sentinelese to violence in the past, and hopefully help them save as much of their unique history and culture as possible in the process.

This article originally appeared on GOOD.

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."