Isolated Tribe Kill American Intruder Defending their Independence from the Outside World
John Allen Chau, a 27 year old from Alabama, disembarked a small fishing boat on North Sentinel island, in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, allegedly to convert the tribal people to Christianity. The skipper who dropped Chau off on the remote beach told reporters, “tribespeople shot him with arrows and left his body on the beach.”
The Sentinelese people are completely cut off from civilization and number between 50 and 150. Contact with this, and other endangered Andaman tribes, is legally forbidden because of the risk of them contracting diseases which their immune systems are not able to deal with, according to a BBC report about the incident.
Ill Fated Mission
Local media have reported that Chau “may have wanted to meet the tribe to preach Christianity to them” and “Seven fishermen have been arrested for illegally ferrying the American to the island,” police say. BBC Journalist Subir Bhaumik, who has been covering the islands for years, said, "Police said Chau had previously visited North Sentinel island about four or five times with the help of local fishermen.”
Group of Andaman Men and Women, Some Wearing Body Paint And with Bows and Arrows, Catching Turtles from Boat on Water. ( Public Domain )
A Daily Mail article interviewing Neil MacLeod, of Stornaway, Scotland, said “he met Chau on a flight from London to Phoenix, Arizona, in October 2015. MacLeod said “I saw him [Chau] reading some Christian literature and I'm a Christian and we started talking.” Chau had recently returned from India and told MacLeod he “was trying to figure out how to travel to the remote North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal.”
According to William Stark, a regional manager of International Christian Concern (ICC) “Chau was a Christian missionary who wanted to interact with members of the Sentinelese tribe” and this group have paid tribute to Chau and condemned his brutal killing.
“We here at International Christian Concern are extremely concerned by the reports of an American missionary being murdered in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A full investigation must be launched into this murder and those responsible must be brought to justice… India must take steps to counter the growing wave of intolerance and violence.”
On the fateful day, Chau had hired a fishing dinghy owned by fishermen and reached the vicinity of the island on November 16, before transferring to a canoe and “His body, spotted the following day by the fishermen on their return, has not yet been retrieved,” the official added, according to the BBC article.
How Can This Type Of Primeval Killing Possibly Happen In 2018?
In this modern world we inhabit, where we have complete global mapping at our finger tips and access to almost all of the knowledge accumulated by our species, how on earth can a 27-year-old man be killed with primitive bows and arrows?
In 2017, attempting to preserve the aboriginal Andaman tribes, the Indian government made taking photographs or making videos of the people punishable with imprisonment of up to three years. The Daily Mail article said “The number of people belonging to the Sentinelese tribe is so low, they don't even understand how to use money. It's in fact illegal to have any sort of contact with them.”
The tribe have resisted all attempts to make contact and befriend them, meeting all attempts with hostility using what primitive weapons they have. Go2Andaman describes the island as the “hardest place in the world to visit.” In a similar incident in 2006, 2 illegal fishermen strayed too close to the island and were shot dead by archers. A helicopter that was sent to retrieve the bodies was greeted by a barrage of arrows and stones. These people simply do not want to be disturbed.
The Sentinelese on North Sentinel Island were caught on film in the 1960s and defended their shores from invasion. (Youtube Screenshot)
The AFP news agency said “Chau had tried and failed to reach the island on 14 November. But then he tried again two days later.” According to an article in the Hindustan Times ,“He [Chau] was attacked by arrows but he continued walking. The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body.” “They were scared and fled,” the report added. “It's a difficult case for the police," says Mr Bhaumik. “You can't even arrest the Sentinelese.”
The Sentinelese people successfully migrated out of Africa and came to the Andaman islands 60,000 years ago. This is a tribe that has a bloodline of 60,000 years according to Kendall F. Person of The Public Blogger , who writes:
‘The descendants have remained unchanged, from their height to their hair, and their ebony colored skin. If the homogeneous colony were not rare enough, they have made no advancements, living the exact same way, hunting and gathering, content with a devout pureness, oblivious to the techno savvy world.’
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Today Global organizations like London-based ‘Survival International’ campaign to protect the indigenous tribes living in the Andamans. The group's international director, Stephen Corry, told reporters that this particular incident was a “tragedy that should never have been allowed to happen.”
Corry makes it very clear that “The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected,” he said. And this is where a modicum of sense comes into what is otherwise a belligerent and brutal murder. The only experience these tribal people have of outsiders was during the British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands in which soldiers violently decimated the tribes, "wiping out thousands of tribespeople” according to Corry. Today, only a tiny fraction of the original population now survive so, according to Corry “the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable.”
In this undated rare footage, a Sentinelese woman seems to drag a man way from the visiting party. (Youtube Screenshot)
What is more, the complete isolation of the Sentinelese means they are particularly vulnerable to illnesses such as flu and measles and Corry said “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.”
Hostages were taken from this island by the British at the end of the 19 th century. The 2 older hostages soon died of disease. The children were taken back to the island, potentially taking the infectious diseases with them. As there has been no contact since, we just don’t know the effect this contact had.
So, this week, while one American man died, who could not ‘just leave these people alone,’ the moment his foot touched the island beach, a package of alien bacteria was delivered that might just grow into a microbial army bringing 60,000 years of heritage to an end, possibly through the common cold.
A story so sad, in more ways than there are words for.
Top image: A Sentinelese man defending the island against a helicopter. Source: Indian Coast Guard/ Survival International
By Ashley Cowie