Why search for missionary killed by remote tribe may be abandoned

Indian police have been urged to call off efforts to recover the body of an American missionary believed to have been killed by an isolated tribe on a remote island.

John Allen Chau, 26, was killed with bow and arrows last week after travelling to North Sentinel, part of the Indian archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar in the Bay of Bengal, to try to convert the tribe to Christianity.

The Sentinelese, generally considered the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world, have violently resisted any contact with outsiders. Two fishermen who strayed onto the island in 2006, were killed and their bodies were never recovered.

Dependra Pathak, the director general of police in Andaman and Nicobar islands, said their bodies were hooked to stakes and displayed like “scarecrows”.

John Chau was killed by North Sentinelese islanders. Source: Instagram/John Allen Chau
A Sentinel tribal man aims with his bow and arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter on December 28, 2004. Source: Reuters

The Indian government has for years placed the island off-limits to visitors to protect the tribe. Human rights organisation, Survival International, has now urged police to abandon the search for Mr Chau due to the risk of introducing the tribe to diseases.

“The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real, and increases with every such contact,” they said.

‘The rights and the desires of the Sentinelese need to be respected’

A group of anthropologists, journalists and activists said in a joint statement that continuing with the efforts to recover Mr Chau’s body could lead to further violence and “completely unwarranted loss of life”.

“The rights and the desires of the Sentinelese need to be respected and nothing is to be achieved by escalating the conflict and tension, and worse, to creating a situation where more harm is caused.”

Mr Pathak said they had been in constant conversations with anthropologists and psychologists.

“They are a treasure… we cannot go and force our way in. We don’t want to harm them,” he said.

Indian officials are being urged to abandon their mission to retrieve the body of slain Christian missionary John Allen Chau. Image: AP

“If they suggest any methodology to interact without disturbing them then we can draw (up a) strategy.

“At this stage we don’t have any plan to confront our Sentinelese.”

Mr Chau, who described himself in social media posts as an adventurer and explorer, made several trips to the island by canoe. He told fishermen who took him to the island a day later he would not be returning.

The seven people who helped him reach the island have since been arrested.

Separately, Andaman and Nicobar authorities issued a statement on Monday reiterating that the island remained off limits to foreigners as well as Indians after some media reported relaxations of restrictions for visitors.