After a tense faceoff, Indian police retreated from the shore of a remote island after several painstaking attempts to retrieve the body of a U.S. missionary who was killed by the island’s people.
Dependra Pathak, the director-general of police on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, said authorities took a boat just off India’s restricted North Sentinel Island on Saturday, where they spotted men from the Sentinelese tribe on the beach, AFP reported. The island, which is off limits to outsiders, is the last place U.S. missionary John Allen Chau was seen alive.
“They stared at us and we were looking at them,” Pathak told the French news outlet of the armed tribesmen. He said the vessel withdrew to avoid any chance of a confrontation with the “uncontacted” tribe.
Chau, 27, was killed Nov. 17 after the bow-and-arrow-wielding Sentinelese shot him down when he trespassed on their island. The community is believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world and is known to attack anyone who comes to the island. Their language, customs and way of life remain unknown to outsiders.
Since Chau’s death, Indian police have been working with anthropological experts to figure out how to recover the young man’s body without disturbing, or being killed by, the tribe.
“We’ve not spotted the body yet, but we roughly know the area where he is believed to be buried,” Pathak explained. “The (recovery) mission was done from a distance to avoid any potential conflict with the tribespeople as it’s a sensitive zone. We are discussing with anthropologists and psychologists about the nature of the Sentinelese.”
Chau visited North Sentinel Island multiple times last week in hopes of converting its long-isolated inhabitants to Christianity, writings in his journal revealed. Although he knew the risks of being hurt or killed, the missionary thought it’d be “worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people.”
“Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?” he wrote.
The religious excursion ultimately cost him his life.
Six local fishermen, along with one other individual, who were involved in illegally ferrying Chau to the remote island have since been arrested, police said. No charges are expected against the tribespeople thought to have killed young missionary.
According to Pathak, Indian authorities are now working to determine if Chau’s death is a repeat incident from 2006 when the Sentinelese killed two Indian fisherman who accidentally strayed onto their island after poaching in their waters. The men’s bodies were hooked onto bamboo stakes facing out to sea like “scarecrows” one week later, he said.
“We are studying the 2006 case,” Pathak added. “We’re asking anthropologists what they do when they kill an outsider. We are trying to understand the group psychology.”
Despite their efforts, anthropologists fear it may be impossible to recover the man’s body from the island.