Christian missionary John Allen Chau was killed by the Sentinelese people of North Sentinel Island after illegally going there to teach them Christianity
The Sentinelese are known for being hostile and wanting no contact with the outside world
Chau was said to have been shot with arrows and then had a rope tied around his neck and was dragged across the beach
Currently attempts to recover Chau’s body have been met with hostility by the Sentinelese
The Indian government has made it illegal to go to North Sentinel Island for the protection of the tribe and outsiders
There are very few places you can find no influence from the outside world. North Sentinel Island — part of the Andaman Islands in India — is one of those places. Even visiting the island is illegal due to the risk of spreading deadly pathogens to the Sentinelese people who have no immune system against even the common flu. What developed countries consider a common cold could be detrimental to the Sentinelese people.
Along with the risk of spreading disease to one of the world’s most fragile people, the Sentinelese have made it extremely clear they want nothing to do with the outside world. Despite the risk of killing an entire tribe of protected people, or being killed by them, Christian missionary John Allen Chau believed Jesus Christ had given him the power to save the Sentinelese people.
There are reports that Chau had traveled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before his death, but wanted to return to out of a “strong desire to meet with the Sentinelese tribes to preach Christianity.” It is believed Chau illegally hired a fishing boat to take him from Chidiyatapu to North Sentinel Island. Chau is said to have paid $325 for the trip that a friend set up for him.
The fishermen took a boat that towed Chau’s kayak behind it. It was reported that Chau went on shore on November 15 in his kayak and sent the boat back out to sea to avoid detection. During that visit Chau is said to have brought gifts, such as a football and fish. It was not long before the Sentinelese became angry with Chau and shot an arrow at him which reportedly hit a book he had with him. Chau swam back to the boat which was in a prearranged location. He spent the rest of the night writing a journal, which he later gave to the fishermen for safe keeping.
In his journal entries, Chau claimed he tried to offer the tribe fish, but two Sentinelese guards — armed with bow and arrows — rushed at him yelling. Chau says he was close to the guards, at one point “just inches” away. In the journal, Chau wrote, “They had two arrows each, unstrung, until they got closer. 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 toward 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.
Chau later wrote that what appeared to be a child shot him with an arrow. “Well, I’ve been shot by the Sentinelese… By a kid probably about 10 or so years old, maybe a teenager, short compared to those who looked like adults,” Chau wrote. Chau stated the child shot an arrow into the Bible he was carrying with him and questioned if he should return to the island. He ultimately decided to return to the island, a decision that would end up costing Chau his life.
On November 16, Chau went back to North Sentinel Island. After arriving back on the island, Chau was reportedly shot with multiple arrows. Chau kept walking, but the Sentinelese eventually came out and wrapped a rope around his neck then dragged him across the beach. Some reports say the tribe possibly buried him. Chau’s body has yet to be recovered from North Sentinel Island. The fishermen that took Chau to the island have been charged for the murder, but members of the tribe will not be due to their protection under Indian law.
The US consulate in Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, is aware of Chau’s death. Authorities in the Union Territory reportedly launched helicopter search teams in an attempt to recover the body, but they were met with hostility from the Sentinelese on every approach. There is little surprise the Sentinelese are responding with hostility. While little is known about the Sentinelese people, the one thing that is clear is they want no contact from the outside world and there may be a good reason for that.
In the late 1800s M.V. Portman, the British ‘Officer in Charge of the Andamanese’ landed in North Sentinel Island with a large team in hopes of making contact with the Sentinelese. To their disappointment, the group found abandoned villages and paths, but no Sentinelese. After a few days of searching, it is said the group came across two elderly people and some children. The children and elderly were taken to the island’s capital Port Blair “in the interest of science.”
Soon after being at Port Blair, the Sentinelese fell ill and the two elderly people died. The children were sent back to North Sentinel Island with gifts. It is unknown what this contact with the Sentinelese did, or if the children returned and infected others from the tribe. Some believe this contact with the outside world and the return of the children had a more disastrous impact on the Sentinelese and could explain their hostility towards anybody who tries to make contact.
In the 1970s, Indian officials tried to take trips out to North Sentinel Island to befriend the tribe. On one of these trips, the officials left two pigs and a doll on the beach as gifts. The Sentinelese speared the pigs and the doll and buried them. By the 1980s, these trips were a bit more regular and officials would attempt to land in areas out of reach from the Sentinelese arrows and leave gifts such as coconuts. The tribe reportedly gave friendly gestures on some trips, but then continued their hostility on other trips.
In 1991 officials believed they made a breakthrough with the Sentinelese. The tribe surprisingly gestured for the gifts to be brought to them and approached the group unarmed. The gifting trips continued, but the friendly greetings did not. At one point the Sentinelese even attacked a wooden boat with their stone axes used for cutting wood knows as “adzes.” By 1996 the gift droppings stopped after officials questioned forcing themselves on a tribe that clearly wanted no contact with the outside world. It is believed the tribe has 40 to 350 members and have been in the area for 55,000 years.
In 2004, the Sentinelese captured international attention after the Asian tsunami. A helicopter flew over North Sentinel island to check on the well-being of the Sentinelese people and captured a picture of a member of the tribe firing a bow and arrow at them. Then in 2006, two fishermen fell asleep after a day of illegally fishing. Despite dropping their anchor, their boat drifted on to the banks of the island while they slept and both men were murdered. The Indian government made it illegal to go within three miles of the island following their deaths. Attempts to recover the bodies were abandoned after being met with hostility and more arrows.