Calls have mounted for efforts to recover the body of an American missionary killed by an ‘uncontacted’ tribe to be called off, as it poses too great a risk to the islanders.
John Allen Chau, 26, was killed in a hail of arrows almost two weeks ago as he went ashore on North Sentinel island in the Indian Ocean, home to the Sentinelese tribe.
Mr Chau had traveled to the island by paying fishermen to smuggle him, and they later told authorities they saw the Sentinelese bury the missionary’s body on the beach.
Killed by tribesmen: U.S. Christian missionary John Allen Chau, 26, was killed and buried by a tribe of hunter-gatherers on a remote island in the Indian Ocean
Indian police on Saturday took a boat 400 yards offshore and spotted men on the beach with bows and arrows, but they do not want to disrupt the tribe or provoke more violence.
Yesterday, Survival International, which seeks to protect the rights of tribal peoples, said Indian authorities should call off the operation as it poses too great a risk to both them and the Sentinelese.
Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said any efforts to recover the body would be ‘incredibly dangerous’ for both Indian officials and 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,’ Mr Corry said.
‘Mr Chau’s body should be left alone, as should the Sentinelese.’
North Sentinel Island, off-bounds to visitors, is home to the Sentinelese people (pictured), whom rights groups say
The Sentinelese tribe are an indigenous tribe who live on North Sentinal Island, which lies around 450 miles from the coast of Thailand and more than 745 miles from mainland India
This was echoed in a joint statement by a group of Indian anthropologists, authors and activists including Pankaj Sekhsaria, Vishvajit Pandya and Madhusree Mukerjee.
‘The rights and the desires of the Sentinelese need to be respected and nothing is to be achieved by escalating the conflict and tension, and worse, to creating a situation where more harm is caused,’ they said.
Last night, Dependra Pathak, the director-general of police of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands where North Sentinel is located, said they have ‘more or less’ identified the site where Mr Chau was killed and allegedly buried.
Pathak said investigators have asked experts to give them ‘the nuances of the group’s conduct and behavior, particularly in this kind of violent behavior,’ before they attempt to recover the body.
Officials typically don’t travel to the North Sentinel area, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago.
The only contacts, occasional ‘gift giving’ visits in which bananas and coconuts were passed by small teams of officials and scholars who remained in the surf, were years ago.
Indian ships monitor the waters around the island, trying to ensure that outsiders do not go near the Sentinelese, who have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone.
Mr Chau had travelled to the area to ‘share the love of Jesus,’ said Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, a Kansas City, Missouri-based Christian missionary organization.
Ms Ho said All Nations had discussed the risks with Mr Chau and sent him on the mission, to support him in his ‘life’s calling,’ she added.
‘He wanted to have a long-term relationship, and if possible, to be accepted by them and live amongst them,’ she said.
American adventurer Mr Chau (right) poses with Founder of Ubuntu Football Academy Casey Prince, 39, in Cape Town, South Africa, days before he left for the remote island
The Sentinelese attracted international attention in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami, when a member of the tribe was photographed on a beach, firing arrows at a helicopter (pictured)
Mr Chau (pictured) was trained by All Nations, a Kansas City, Missouri-based organization, before his trip and he wanted to ‘share the love of Jesus’
Ms Ho said the Indian government lifted restrictions on traveling to the island in August. She said she couldn’t comment on why Chau arrived there the way he did, but that he carefully planned it.
‘We are just in grief and in shock about his death,’ she said. ‘At the same time, we consider it a real honor to have worked with him, to have been a part of his journey.’
Chau, according to his purported Instagram account a ‘Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician’ and an ‘ambassador’ for a US brand of beef jerky, interacted with the Sentinelese before he died.
He claimed in his own notes, which were published after his death, that he had shouted ‘My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you’, only to be shot at with arrows, one of them piercing his Bible, and beat a hasty retreat.
‘I DON’T WANT TO DIE,’ wrote Chau, who appeared to want to bring Christianity to the islanders. ‘Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue. No I don’t think so.’
One of the persons who fired arrows at him was a young boy, according to Mr Chau himself.
‘Why did a little kid have to shoot me today?’ he wrote in his notes, which he left with the fishermen before swimming back the next morning. ‘His high-pitched voice still lingers in my head.’
The Chau family posted this statement regarding his death on his Instagram account
Five fishermen have been arrested for facilitating Mr Chau’s visit to North Sentinel Island. Visits to the island are heavily restricted by the government
Police say Chau knew that the Sentinelese resisted all contact by outsiders, firing arrows and spears at passing helicopters and killing fishermen who drift onto their shore.
Chau paid fishermen to take him near North Sentinel, using a kayak to paddle to shore and bringing gifts, including a football and fish.
Scholars know almost nothing about the island, from how many people live there to what language they speak.
The Andamans once had other similar groups, long-ago migrants from Africa and Southeast Asia who settled in the island chain, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past century as a result of disease, intermarriage and migration.
Five fishermen, a friend of Chau’s and a local tourist guide have been arrested for helping Chau.
Chau, whose friends described him as a fervent Christian, attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Before that he had lived in southwestern Washington state and went to Vancouver Christian High School.
In an Instagram post, his family said it was mourning him as a ‘beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us.’ The family also said it forgave his killers.
Authorities say Chau arrived in the area on Oct. 16 and stayed on another island while he prepared to travel to North Sentinel. It was not his first time in the region, as he had visited the Andaman islands in 2015 and 2016.