An American tourist visiting a remote Andaman Islands has been killed by an isolated tribes people. A police source told Reuters that the American, John Allen Chau (age 27), is a preacher who had visited the area in the past and had a strong desire to meet the tribe. The source also claimed Chau expressed interest in preaching to them, but the 27-year-old presented himself on social media as an “adventurer”.
The tribe which killed the American missionary is completely cut off from the outside world and known to attack outsiders with bows and arrows. According to Dependra Pathak, the director general of police in Andaman and Nicobar, an Indian territory, Chau was killed last week after being illegally ferried to the island by fishermen. Chau was reportedly taking scissors, safety pins and a football as gifts to the tribe.
The Indian government places heavy restrictions on visits to the island to keep people from getting in contact with the Sentinelese tribe, a remote indigenous tribe considered to be one of the last tribal societies untouched by civilization. The government makes it illegal to visit the tribe to preserve their way of life and prevent the spread of disease.
Chau who is from the American state of Alabama reportedly paid fishermen 25,000 Indian Rupees to smuggle him from Port Blair to North Sentinel (considered to be a sovereign state under Indian law, which also prohibits travel to the island). According to First Post India, Chau had made several prior visits to the Andaman Islands. Chau was trying to spread Christianity to the tribe and had made attempts before too.
On November 18th, after an abortive attempt two days before, Chau reached North Sentinel Island by kayak. The fishermen who had taken him there (but had not themselves landed) saw him attacked by the islanders with bows and arrows as he reached the shore, but reported he kept walking despite the attack. They later saw the islanders attach a rope around his neck and drag his body, whereupon the fishermen fled, but returned the following day and saw Chau’s body on the shore.
The fishermen who had illegally taken Chau to the island then reported his death to a local preacher and friend, who called his family in the USA, and the family subsequently called the United States Embassy in New Delhi. Following this contact, Indian authorities arrested seven fishermen who, as of November 2018, may face a number of charges including being culpable of Chau’s homicide.
No charges can be brought by India against Sentinelese islanders following its declaration as a sovereign state by the Indian government. Furthermore, Chau was in direct violation of Indian law, which dictates that any passage within three miles of the coastline is illegal, and is enforced by the Indian Navy.
The Sentinelese are a pre-Neolithic indigenous people and an uncontacted people group. The group is estimated to be composed of anywhere from 40 to 500 individuals, and is believed to have lived on North Sentinel Island for as long as 55,000 years. They speak the Sentinelese language, a language isolate not related to the native languages found on the surrounding islands.
Being an isolated group, the Sentinelese likely do not possess the genetic immunity to survive exposure to common viruses, such as influenza and measles. Unlike other ethnic groups found in the Andamanese Islands, who were more welcoming to outsiders and now interact with them somewhat regularly, the Sentinelese appear to have consistently refused any interaction with the outside world.
This is not the fist time the Sentinelese have attacked and killed outsiders. In January 2006, two Indian fishermen, Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari, attempted to illegally harvest crabs off the coast of North Sentinel Island and ignored calls from passerby fishermen to leave the area.
Their makeshift anchor broke away from their small fishing boat in the middle of the night and, while they slept, they floated within range of the Islanders, who attacked them and destroyed the boat.
Raj and Tiwari’s bodies were discovered by the Indian Coast Guard three days later, when a search and rescue helicopter uncovered them by accident, via its downdraft, while surveying the coast.