Authorities struggle to recover body of American missionary killed by indigenous tribe on remote Indian island
Police said recovering the body is a difficult proposition given the sensitivity of the tribal group and the legal requirements
An American Christian Missionary who took it upon himself to spread the word of Christ to an indigenous tribe on a remote Indian island and was killed in the process has triggered a debate about the rightness of his mission.
Even as a major controversy brews over 26-year-old John Allen Chau's death, Indian authorities are struggling to recover his body from the restricted island where it is reportedly buried, Bloomberg reports.
According to police, North Sentinel Islanders in India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands fatally shot John Allen Chau with arrows last week before burying his body on the beach.
Law enforcement officials are facing difficulties at the prospect of traveling to the island, where the indigenous Sentinelese tribe lives just as their ancestors did since thousands of years ago. The tribe views outsiders as an imminent threat and confront them violently.
Dependera Pathak, director-general of police of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, said: "It's a difficult proposition. We have to see what is possible, taking utmost care of the sensitivity of the group and the legal requirements."
According to him, police are currently consulting tribal welfare experts, scholars, and anthropologists to figure out a way to recover the missionary's body.
Last week, Chau paid fishermen to take him near North Sentinel despite visits to the island being heavily restricted. Chau had good intentions, and brought along gifts such as fish and a football for the tribesmen, and used a kayak to paddle to shore.
But PC Joshi, an anthropology professor at Delhi University and who is an expert on the islands, told Associated Press that it was a "foolish adventure." According to him, Chau "invited that aggression."
Pathak said that Chau risked not only his own life during the visit, but also the lives of the islanders who practically have none or little resistance to many diseases that people from the civilized world may carry. "They are not immune to anything. A simple thing like flu can kill them," he added.
Details from the incident which were previously unknown have now unfolded. Chau interacted with some tribesmen on his first day at the island, until they became angry and shot an arrow at him. Luckily, he survived the attack and swam back to the fishermen's boat, which was waiting for him at a safe distance. He wrote about his visit that night and left his notes with the fishermen before leaving for North Sentinel the next morning on November 16.
While what exactly transpired on the isolated island that day isn't clear, fishermen saw tribesmen dragging Chau's body along the beach the following day and burying his remains. Until now, seven people have been arrested for assisting Chau in his expedition - five fishermen, a friend of Chau's, and a local tourist guide, according to Pathak. Although Chau was allegedly shot and killed by arrows, the cause of death can only be established once his body is recovered from the island.
In his notes, Chau appeared to confidently write that "God" had "sheltered him from coastguard and Navy." His family mourned his death on Instagram and described him as a "beloved son, brother, uncle, and best friend to us." They called for the release of those who assisted him in his quest to reach the island and said they had forgiven them. "He ventured out on his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions," the family said.
That said, India respects the privacy of the indigenous population on North Sentinel despite the island being under its protection. In 2006, two Indian fishermen were killed by tribespeople after their boat broke loose and drifted onto the shore. However, no one was prosecuted or investigated for over the deaths. Having said that, India now allows scholars to visit some parts of the Andaman that were entirely forbidden previously, albeit with special permits. Authorities asserted that Chau had no permit to visit North Sentinel.
In Chau's last notes to his family on November 16, he told them they might think he was crazy to go to the island but he felt it was worth it, according to Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Covenant Journey. The 26-year-old urged them to not be angry if he lost his life. "He didn't go there for just adventure. I have no question it was to bring the gospel of Jesus to them," Staver said.
Chau had lived in Southwestern Washington and went to Vancouver Christian High School before attending Oral Roberts University.