American on misplaced adventure killed by hostile tribe on remote island
American adventurer and Christian missionary John Allen Chau followed his convictions to one of the most dangerous places on earth.
The remote island’s natives are so hostile and isolated, authorities now hesitate to go in and retrieve his body.
Police in India said Chau, believed to be 26 or 27, was killed last week on an unauthorized visit to North Sentinel, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago and where outsiders are seen with suspicion and attacked. Police said Chau apparently was shot with arrows and buried on the beach.
They are consulting with experts before deciding how to go about recovering his body.
“It’s a difficult proposition,” said Dependra Pathak, police chief for India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands, where North Sentinel is located. “We have to see what is possible, taking utmost care of the sensitivity of the group and the legal requirements.”
Although Indian government regulations forbid interaction with the Sentinelese, Chau was determined to visit the island and paid fishermen $325 to take him close to it, officials said. He then paddled to shore on a kayak, bringing a Bible and gifts that included fish, a soccer ball and fishing line.
Pathak called the trip a “misplaced adventure,’’ adding, “He certainly knew it was off limits.’’
P.C. Joshi, an anthropology professor at Delhi University who has studied the islands – located hundreds of miles off the Indian coast – pointed out the local people have little resistance to many diseases from outside and “a simple thing like flu can kill them.’’
The fishermen said that on his first day, last Thursday, Chau interacted with some tribesmen – who survive by hunting, fishing and collecting wild plants – until they became angry and shot an arrow at him. He then swam back to the fishermen’s boat waiting at a safe distance.
That night, Chau wrote about his visit and left his notes with the fishermen. He returned to North Sentinel the next day. It’s not clear what ensued, but on the morning of the third day, the fishermen saw tribesmen drag Chau’s body along the beach and bury his remains.
Pathak said the fishermen then returned to Port Blair, capital of the island chain, and shared the news with a friend of Chau’s, who informed the family. Pathak said seven people have been arrested for helping Chau arrange his illegal trip, including five fishermen, the friend and a local tourist guide.
This is not the first time tragedy has befallen those who have landed on North Sentinel. In 2006, two Indian fishermen were killed by islanders after their boat broke loose and drifted ashore. Indian media reports say authorities did not investigate or prosecute anyone in the deaths.
Chau had wanted ever since high school to go to North Sentinel to share Christianity with the indigenous people, said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Covenant Journey, a program that takes college students on tours of Israel to affirm their Christian faith.
Chau, who hailed from Washington State and attended Oral Roberts University, went through that program in 2015. Authorities said he had visited the Andaman Islands that year and in 2016.
“He didn’t go there for just adventure,’’ Staver said. “I have no question it was to bring the gospel of Jesus to them.”
Staver said Chau’s last notes to his family on Friday told them that they might think he was crazy but that he felt it was worth it and asked that they not be angry if he was killed.
An Instagram page under the name johnachau features several photos of outdoor sites and provides a list that reads: Following the Way. Wilderness EMT. PADI Advanced Open Water Diver. Outbound Collective Explorer. Perky Jerky Ambassador. Snakebite Survivor.
On the page there’s also a letter from the Chau family that says in part: “He was a beloved son, brother, uncle, and best friend to us. To others he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT, an 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.’’
Contributing: The Associated Press
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