American Missionary Killed With Arrows After Trespassing On Indigenous Island
An American missionary looking to share Christianity with an indigenous tribe on the Andaman Islands was killed after trespassing onto their land.
John Allen Chau was shot and killed by arrows from the Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island, the Associated Press reports. The 26-year-old is believed to have been killed on the weekend of Nov. 16 after he made several attempts to visit the isolated tribe. Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on India’s Andaman and the Nicobar Islands, told reporters seven fishermen were arrested in connection to Chau's death after they helped him trespass onto Sentinel Island.
Chau visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2015 and 2016, but it wasn't until last month that a friend of Chau's hired the fisherman to take him and his kayak to the island. The group was paid a reported $325 for the assignment.
After his kayak was damaged, he tried again on Nov. 16 to reach the island. The actual date of the murder is unknown but the fishermen watched the incident as they waited for Chau in their boat. The news of Chau's death was told to his friend who then informed his family.
Pathak says Chau's death cannot be confirmed until they recover the body. “It was a case of misdirected adventure,” Pathak said.
The history of the Sentinelese people has been widely regarded as one of the oldest living paleolithic people. Historians believe the group was one of the first to migrate from Africa and have been on the island for over 60,000 years. Other Andamanese tribes like Jarawa and Onge are also along the island but the Sentinelese are known to be the most hostile due to European colonizers attempting to study the people and reportedly kidnap them.
Over the years, some anthropologists have tried to visit North Sentinel Island but have been met several times with arrows. A documentary released in the '90s revealed Indian government anthropologist Triloknath Pandit's (or T. N. Pandit) brief interaction with the group. Speaking with The American Scholar in 2016, the retired Pandit shared his thoughts on the journey.
"That voluntarily came forward to meet us – it was unbelievable,” he said of the interaction.“But there was this feeling of sadness also – I did feel it. And there was the feeling that at a larger scale of human history, these people who were holding back, holding on, ultimately had to yield. It’s like an era in history gone. The islands have gone. Until the other day, the Sentinelese were holding the flag, unknown to themselves. They were being heroes. But they have also given up."
While his interaction with the Jarawa tribe was laxer, the Indian government placed restrictions on island visits. In 2006, two fishermen were killed after their boat accidentally floated in the vicinity of the island.
Organizations like Survival International, have pressed the Indian government to work on stricter laws to protect the indigenous tribes from those prying into their lives.
“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen," they said in a statement. "The Indian authorities should have been enforcing the protection of the Sentinelese and their island for the safety of both the tribe and outsiders. Instead, a few months ago the authorities lifted one of the restrictions that had been protecting the Sentinelese tribe’s island from foreign tourists, which sent exactly the wrong message, and may have contributed to this terrible event. The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected."
Chau's family hasn't made a public statement about his death.
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