News and Commentary

Police Face Off With Protected Tribe Suspected Of Killing American Missionary

Last week, an American missionary “adventurer” was reportedly killed by a legally protected tribe that lives on the remote North Sentinel Island in India’s Andaman Islands. On Saturday, law enforcement had a “nervous long-distance face-off” with the Sentinelese, who are known for being hostile to outsiders and who Indian law protects from any outside contact.

On Wednesday, authorities revealed that John Allen Chau, a 27-year-old American, was killed after he landed on North Sentinel Island after previous attempts to make contact with the tribe, which numbers between 50 to 150 and is protected by law from outside contact to shield them from diseases and protect their way of life.

“[Chau] tried to reach the Sentinel island on November 14 but could not make it. Two days later he went well prepared. He left the dingy midway and took a canoe all by himself to the island,” one source told AFP. “He was attacked by arrows but he continued walking.”

“The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body,” the source said. “They were scared and fled but returned next morning to find his body on the sea shore.”

Over the weekend, authorities attempted to retrieve Chau’s body, but ended up having a tense “face-off” with the Sentinelese, AFP reports.

“The police team, who took a boat just off Indian-owned North Sentinel island on Saturday, spotted men from the Sentinelese tribe on the beach where John Allen Chau was last seen,” the news agency reports, citing Police Chief Dependra Pathak. “Using binoculars, officers – in a police boat about 400 metres from the shore – saw the men armed with bows and arrows, the weapons reportedly used by the isolated tribe to kill Chau as he shouted Christian phrases at them.”

“They stared at us and we were looking at them,” said Chief Pathak. In response, the boat withdrew to avoid a potential conflict, he said.

The situation has put police in a difficult situation. They are required to limit contact with the pre-neolithic tribe, but they must also attempt to retrieve Chau’s body, which fisherman say they saw tribesmen burying on the beach.

Authorities say that regardless of what took place, they will not charge any of the tribesmen with murder. Meanwhile. seven people, including six fishermen, have been arrested for helping Chau in his attempt to get to the island.

If reports about his murder are correct, this would be the third outsider killed by the Sentinelese. In 2006, the tribe killed two fisherman who landed on the island.

“One week after their deaths, the bodies of the two Indians were hooked on bamboo stakes facing out to sea,” AFP reports, an action which Pathak described as a “scarecrow” warning to outsiders.

“We are studying the 2006 case. We are asking anthropologists what they do when they kill an outsider,” he told AFP. “We are trying to understand the group psychology.”

Related: American Killed After Illegally Making Contact With Isolated Indian Tribe