On 16 November 2018, 26-year old John Allen Chau was killed when he attempted to visit an indigenous community living in voluntary isolation. Apparently, he wanted to convert them to Christianity.
Chau visited North Sentinel Island, home to the Sentinelese tribe. They killed him with a hail of arrows.
Seven local fishermen have been arrested for illegally taking him to North Sentinel. Chau paid them to take him to the island.
Authorities are now trying to rescue Chau’s body.
Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said in a statement,
“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen. 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.
“It’s not impossible that the Sentinelese have just been infected by deadly pathogens to which they have no immunity, with the potential to wipe out the entire tribe.
Indian government lifted restrictions
North Sentinel Island is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Island chain in the Bay of Bengal. The Sentinelese have lived on the island for about 60,000 years.
They are protected under India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands (protection of Aboriginal Tribes) Regulation Act, 1956. In September 1991, the Indian government established a five kilometre exclusion zone around North Sentinel Island, under the 1956 Act.
In August 2018, in an attempt to boost tourism, the Indian government removed Restricted Area Permit requirements from 29 islands in the Andaman. According to an article published by Down to Earth, North Sentinel was one of the islands opened up to tourism.
Over the past three years, Chau made several trips to the Sentinelese.
On his most recent trip, Chau brought gifts, including scissors, safety pins, fish, and a football.
He kept a journal, in which he wrote that he was “doing this to establish the kingdom of Jesus on the island … Do not blame the natives if I am killed”.
Chau’s mother shared the journal with the Washington Post. In a last note to his family he wrote, “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people.” He added, “God, I don’t want to die.”
Chau’s mother told the Washington Post that she believes he is still alive. When the Post asked why, she replied, “My prayers.”
The fishermen told Indian authorities that they saw Chau’s body being dragged and buried on a beach on the island.
The Sentinel should be left alone
Indian authorities are now considering whether to recover Chau’s body. On 24 November 2018, police sailed to the island. They stopped their boat about 400 metres from the island, and watched through binoculars. They left when the saw the Sentinelese lining up on the beach with bows and arrows.
Dependra Pathak, police chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told ABC News that,
“We have mapped the area with the help of these fishermen. We have not spotted the body yet but we roughly know the area where he is believed to be buried.”
Survival International’s Corry issued the following statement today:
“We urge the Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover John Allen Chau’s body. Any such attempt is incredibly dangerous, both for the Indian officials, but also for the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if any outside diseases are introduced.
“The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real, and increases with every such contact. Such efforts in similar cases in the past have ended with the Sentinelese attempting to defend their island by force.
“Mr Chau’s body should be left alone, as should the Sentinelese. The weakening of the restrictions on visiting the islands must be revoked, and the exclusion zone around the island properly enforced.”