Tribal rights organization urges against recovering American Christian missionary's body from remote Andaman island
Survival International is urging concerned authorities not to recover the body of John Allen Chau citing dangers to both officials as well as the tribespeople.
Survival International, a tribal rights organization, is urging officials not to attempt to recover the body of John Allen Chau, who was reportedly killed on a remote island by an isolated tribe, saying it would be "incredibly dangerous" to both authorities as well as the Sentinelese people.
Chau was an American Christian missionary allegedly killed by the Sentinelese tribe of Andaman Islands in India earlier this month, People reports.
Issuing a precautionary statement on Monday, Stephen Corry, Survival International's Director, wrote: “We urge the Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover John Allen Chau’s body. Any such attempt is incredibly dangerous, both for the Indian officials, but also for the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if any outside diseases are introduced. The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real and increases with every such contact. Such efforts in similar cases in the past have ended with the Sentinelese attempting to defend their island by force. Mr. Chau’s body should be left alone, as should the Sentinelese. The weakening of the restrictions on visiting the islands must be revoked, and the exclusion zone around the island properly enforced.”
According to Survival International, the inhabitants of the North Sentinel Island, which is about the size of Manhattan, are known to protect themselves radically if anyone attempts to come close to their habitat. The tribe made headlines in 2004 when one of its members was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter which was checking on the island after the Asian tsunami.
That said, law enforcement authorities in India are yet to confirm whether 27-year-old Chau is dead, although they believe he is. It's been very difficult for the police to find Chau's remains as the Sentinelese are easily threatened by outside contact and are completely cut off from the modern world.
Speaking to CNN, Indian authorities said: “We have a team out in the waters for reconnaissance and to strategize how to recover his body. The team consists of coastal guards, officials from the tribal welfare department, forest department officers and police officials."
Approximately two weeks ago, Chau reportedly bribed a group of local fishermen to take him to North Sentinel Island in a bid to convert the tribespeople to Christianity. The Washington Post obtained a journal maintained by the missionary in which he wrote about his experience of attempting to reach the tribe in the days leading up to his death.
Chau wrote that the Sentinelese people reacted angrily when he tried to preach to them during the first encounter. According to his journal, Chau explained in the November 16 entry: “I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.'" The tribespeople immediately went on the offensive and struck him with an arrow, which allegedly "pierced through his Bible". Chau wrote: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people. God, I don’t want to die.”
According to CNN, Chau did not give up his quest and tried to make contact again the following day. However, local fishermen who were waiting at a distance from the shore claimed they saw the Sentinelese people attack and subsequently drag Chau away. This led to the arrest of the fishermen who aided Chau's travel to the island. India has strict laws against people trying to go near the island in order to protect the tribe's vulnerable health and way of life. The regulations in place also protect outsiders from possible violent incidents.
Speaking to CNN, Dependra Pathak, director general of police of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, emphasized that Chau was a missionary despite coming into the country on a tourist visa. “We refuse to call him a tourist. Yes, he came on a tourist visa but he came with a specific purpose to preach on a prohibited island,” Pathak said.
In a statement posted on Instagram regarding Chau's death, his family "forgave" those responsible for his death. “We recently learned from an unconfirmed report that John Allen Chau was reportedly killed in India while reaching out to members of the Sentinelese Tribe in the Andaman Islands. Words cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report,” the statement read.
"He was a beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us. To others, he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT, and international soccer coach, and a mountaineer. He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people. We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death. We also ask for the release of those friends he had in the Andaman Islands. He ventured out on his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions.”