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Christian Missionary Killed by Reclusive Tribe After Going to Their Remote Island to “Declare Jesus”

A young Christian missionary has been killed after venturing to North Sentinel Island, a protected island in the Indian Ocean home to a 30,000-year-old tribe known to aggressively repel outsiders, in order to “declare Jesus”.

27-year-old John Allen Chau is believed to have been killed by a volley of arrows shot by members of the Sentinelese tribe shortly after encroaching on their remote island. He had been trying to make contact with the reclusive natives for years, and on Saturday he paddled to the island in a kayak, despite the warnings of several fishermen he had paid to take him close to it. According to eyewitnesses, Chau was hit by an arrow shortly after reaching the island, and his body was later dragged deeper inland and buried. In a journal he left fishermen before venturing to North Sentinel Island, the young explorer wrote that he knew he risked being killed but that it was “worth it to declare Jesus to these people”.

Photo: NASA Earth Observatory/Public Domain

The natives of North Sentinel Island have long been known to violently resist contact with outsiders. The tribe has not made contact with any surrounding communities since 1991, after anthropologists who had originally visited North Sentinel Island during the 1960s abandoned their efforts 25 years ago. In 2004, members of the tribe fired arrows at a helicopter that passed over the island after the Indian Ocean tsunami, and in 2006, they killed two fishermen who accidentally reached their island after their boat became unmoored at night, while they were sleeping.

Chau’s journal revealed that he was fully aware of the risks he faced by trying to approach the Sentinelese, especially since they had fired arrows at him before. He had tried to offer them fish and a football, and ventured into the range of the tribesmen’s arrows in order to communicate with them, but they were having none of it.

“I made sure to stay out of arrow range, but unfortunately that meant I was also out of good hearing range.” John Allen Chau wrote. “So I got a little closer as they (about six from what I could see) yelled at me, I tried to parrot their words back to them. They burst out laughing most of the time, so they probably were saying bad words or insulting me.”

“I hollered: ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.’ I regret I began to panic slightly as I saw them string arrows in their bows. I picked up the fish and threw it towards them. They kept coming. I paddled like I never have in my life back to the boat. I felt some fear but mainly was disappointed. They didn’t accept me right away.”

 

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In another entry the “explorer at heart” wrote that a Sentinelese boy fired an arrow at him that actually struck his Bible. But he didn’t let the terrifying experience deter him from his mission, to bring the word of God to these natives, even though they clearly weren’t interested.

In a letter he wrote to his parents shortly before heading to North Sentinel Island, John Allen Chau asked them not be angry at the Sentinelese or God should he be killed, but instead live their lives “in obedience to whatever he has called you to”.

Indian police said that Chau had visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, of which North Sentinel island is a part of, four times in the last three years. They have now registered a murder case against “unknown tribesmen” and have arrested seven people for illegally helping the American reach the protected island. However, the Sentinelese cannot be prosecuted, as contact with them is illegal in order to protect their way of life and shield them from common diseases like the flu or measles, to which they have no immunity.

Stephen Corry, international director of Survival International – an organisation campaigning for the protection of indigenous tribes living in the Andamans – called Chau’s death a “tragedy” that “should never have been allowed to happen”.

 

“The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected,” he said. “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 survive. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable.”

Recovering John Allen Chau’s body from North Sentinel Island without bothering the natives is expected to be a big challenge.

“We maintained a distance from the island and have not yet been able to spot the body, it may take some more days,” police chief Dependra Pathak said. “We have to take care that we must not disturb [the Sentinelese] or their habitat by any means. It is a highly sensitive zone and it will take some time.”