An isolated tribespeople are believed to have killed an American preacher who illegally trespassed on their remote island.
Authorities say John Allen Chau was visiting an island off India’s remote cluster of Andaman and Nicobar when he was killed by a group of hunter-gatherers who have very little contact with the outside world, Reuters reported. Chau, who sources said had visited the Andaman and Nicobar islands before, was illegally ferried to the out-of-bounds North Sentinel Island, which is home to the Sentinelese people.
The group is believed to be one of the last pre-Neolithic tribes in the world, living on the island for at least 50,000 years. They’re known for fiercely protecting their home from outsiders, often with bows and arrows, according to the news site.
“We are aware of reports concerning a U.S. citizen in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate said in an email. “When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts.”
Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, later identified 26-year-old Chau as the victim. Pathak said the young missionary arrived in the area on Oct. 16 and stayed at a hotel while he prepared for his trip to the island. The next day, he set sail with seven fishermen who his friend had paid $325 to ferry him and his kayak there.
On Nov. 15, Pathak said Chau took his kayak ashore on North Sentinel Island but sent the fisherman back out to sea, so not to alert the tribespeople. He interacted with some of the locals and gave them gifts, however, the group became agitated and shot an arrow at him, hitting a book he was carrying.
Chau managed to escape and swam out to where the fishermen’s boat was waiting for him. He spent the rest of the evening writing about his experiences on pages that he later gave the fisherman. He set out to visit the tribespeople the following day and never returned.
According to Pathak, the waiting fisherman spotted the Sentinelese people the next morning dragging Chau’s lifeless body. They sailed back to the Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and alerted Chau’s friend, who then broke the news to his family.
The Indian police and U.S. consular officials were also soon notified of what happened.
“It was a case of misdirected adventure,” Pathak said, according to the Associated Press.
Police have since charged the seven fishermen for endangering Chau’s life by taking him to the restricted island. The missionary allegedly had a great desire to meet the Sentinelese people and preach on the island, though this hasn’t been confirmed.
Neil MacLeod, of Stornaway, Scotland, told the Daily Mail that he met the young missionary in 2015 on a flight from London to Phoenix, Arizona. MacLeod was reportedly aware of Chau’s trip, claiming he’d been planning it for three years.
“He recognized the dangers of traveling there, but I think he had a sense of call,” he told the paper. Adding, “This was something he was working on for three years. He was committed to going there. In his view, he was trying to help these people.”
A regional manager for International Christian Concern is calling for charges against the Sentinelese people.
A statement on their website read, “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 in this murder and those responsible must be brought to justice.”
It further stated, “India must take steps to counter the growing wave of intolerance and violence.”
The request for charges are in vain, however, as interaction with the group is illegal in an effort to prevent outside diseases from infiltrating their shrinking population.
Survival International, an organization that works for the rights of tribal people, says Indian authorities should be more protective of the Sentinelese people after Chau’s death.
“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.
Shiv Viswanathan, a social scientist and a professor at Jindal Global Law School, said North Sentinel Island was a protected area and not open to tourists. “The exact population of the tribe is not known, but it is declining. The government has to protect them,” Viswanathan said.
Authorities haven’t recovered Chau’s body but said they are working to coordinate visit to the island to bring back his remains.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. According to AP, a pair of fisherman were killed by the tribespeople in 2006 after their boat broke loose drifted onto the shore. Their bodies were never recovered.
Associated Press contributed to this story.