26-year-old John Allen Chau was killed on North Sentinel Island. The island is home to the Sentinelese community which is believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world. According to media reports, members of the Sentinelese used bows and arrows to kill Chau. Officials also believed the tribe buried the missionary following his death.
The island is typically off limits to visitors, said Dependra Pathak, the director general of police in Andaman and Nicobar. Survival International, an organization that works for the rights of tribal people says that the Sentinelese have a fear of outsiders.
“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen,” said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, adding that Chau had not only put himself in danger but also the welfare of the tribe, which has had very limited contact with the outside world.
“The British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands decimated the tribes living there, wiping out thousands of tribespeople, and only a fraction of the original population now survives. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable,” Stephen Corry, the group’s director, said in a statement.
Corry says the killing of the American should prompt Indian authorities to properly protect the lands of the Sentinelese.
Chau’s family described him as a “beloved son, brother and uncle” as well as a Christian missionary, wilderness emergency medical technician, soccer coach and mountaineer.
Based on his social media posts, Chau appears to have visited India multiple times in the last few years, exploring and preaching in many parts of southern India.
Responding to a travel blog query about what was on the top of his adventure list, Chau said: “Going back to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India.”
Chau also said in the blog: “I definitely get my inspiration for life from Jesus.”
Chau made two or three trips to the island by canoe from Nov. 15, making contact with the tribe but returning to his boat, Police Chief Pathak said. He told the fishermen on Nov. 16 he would not come back from the island and instructed them to return home and pass on some handwritten notes he had made to a friend.
The next morning they saw his body being dragged across a beach and buried in the sand, the police chief said, adding: “This was a misplaced adventure in a highly protected area.”
The family asked that local contacts not be prosecuted in the case.
Police said in a statement that they launched a murder investigation into Chau’s death after being contacted by the US consulate in the southern Indian city of Chennai.
Local fishermen suspected of illegally ferrying Chau to the 23-square-mile island had been arrested on separate charges.