American missionary killed by reclusive island tribe in India
NEW DELHI, INDIA— A 27-year-old American, John Allen Chau, was killed by members of one of the world’s most isolated indigenous tribes, in the North Sentinel Island of Andaman, India, after he made several unsuccessful attempts to contact them and preach Christianity, according to Indian officials.
The Sentinelese tribe is one of the world’s last “uncontacted” people, often described as the most dangerous tribe in the world who have historically resisted any outsiders with violence.
“After reaching North Sentinel Island, he tried to contact the local tribesmen and offered some gifts such as a small football, playing ring, fishing line, scissors, medical kit, etc. to them,” the Andaman police stated in a press release. “During his attempts to befriend the Tribals, he was shot with an arrow by an unknown person.”
In Chau’s journal, which he left with the fishermen, he wrote that he wanted to take the Word of Christ to the aboriginals. It’s not clear whether Chau belonged to a missionary organization or felt motivated on his own to spread Christianity.
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this,” Chau wrote in a journal to his parents that he left with fishermen, “but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed.”
“God, I don’t want to die,” he wrote in a later entry.
Chau visited the Sentinelese by bribing local fishermen to take him to their island, according to the press statement. The island is a restricted area and entry without permission is illegal. The fisherman reportedly left him in the vicinity of North Sentinel Island around midnight, and Chau continued alone in a canoe in the early hours of Nov. 15.
“He was a beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us,” Chau’s family wrote on Instagram. “To others, he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT, an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer. He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”
On his Instagram account (@johnachau), Chau described himself as someone who was a Snakebite Survivor, Wilderness EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), Outbound Collective Explorer and Following the Way. He attended Oral Roberts University, an evangelical Christian university in Oklahoma and most recently resided in Washington state.
Chau had stayed for a month in the Andaman islands, a remote Indian territory closer to Myanmar than India, and had tried to contact the tribe five times, according to a source from Andaman who worked closely with the Indian police investigating.
On Nov. 17, the fisherman saw some of the tribal people dragging a dead body and burying it on shore.
“From the silhouette of the body, clothing and circumstances, it appeared to be the body of John Allen Chau to them,” the police said.
Chau’s body is yet to be recovered from the island, which is about 50 km west of Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The police said the Indian Coast Guard and Forest and Tribal Welfare Departments are working on a plan to recover Chau’s body.
Believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world with no immunity to modern diseases, the Sentinelese are legally protected by India and recognized as a sovereign state. Prosecuting a Sentinelese person for murder would be impossible.
The Andaman Director of the General Police, Dependra Pathak, described Chau as “some kind of paramedic” who was on “a misplaced adventure in a prohibited area to meet uncontacted persons.”
“People thought he is a missionary because he had mentioned his position on God and that he was a believer on social media or somewhere online,” Pathak told the NewsMinute, an Indian news website. “But in a strict sense, he was not a missionary. He was an adventurer. His intention was to meet the aborigines.”
Chau had been to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands several times before from 2015 to 2017.
Indian authorities confirmed that seven people had been arrested for illegally transporting Chau to the island and on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The Sentinelese tribal is estimated to number anywhere from 40 to 500 individuals and are believed to have lived on North Sentinel Island for as long as 55,000 years. They speak their own language, not related to the native languages found on the surrounding islands and survive as hunter-gatherers.
In January 2006, two Indian fishermen, Sunder Raj and Pandit Tiwari, were also killed by the Sentinelese Tribals after their fishing boat floated within range of the Islanders after its makeshift anchor broke.