News.com.au – The US will not press charges against the Indian tribe that killed an American Christian missionary.
John Allen Chau was 26 when he ventured onto North Sentinel Island last year in a bid to spread his faith among the Sentinelese – the world’s most isolated tribe.
Illegally taken there by fishermen, he was killed in a deadly bow and arrow attack soon after stepping onto their shores, and was buried in the sand the morning after.
While prosecution was always unlikely, the US ambassador-at-large for religious freedom Sam Brownback confirmed to reporters the case would not be pursued …
For years, India’s government prohibited people from traveling there.
But last year, it announced foreign nationals could travel to a number of islands, including North Sentinel, without a permit.
Conservationists were alarmed over the move, fearing it could put indigenous inhabitants at risk …
Further, outsiders could expose them to 21st-century diseases, with the common cold even threatening the tribe’s existence.
The flu could threaten to wipe out their ancient tribe of 50 to 150 people altogether.
“They [the Sentinelese] are not immune to anything,” said PC Joshi, an anthropology professor at Delhi University. “A simple thing like flu can kill them.”
Following the incident, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson backed the remote tribe’s border protection measures that lead to Mr. Chau’s death.
“The Sentinelese people of the remote North Sentinel Islands are likely the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world, and possess a unique culture and way of life that should be cherished and protected,” Ms. Hanson wrote in a senate motion.
Death of John Allen Chau (2018)
In November 2018, John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old American missionary trained and sent by Missouri-based missionary organization All Nations, traveled illegally to North Sentinel Island by paying local fishermen, intending to make contact with and live among the Sentinelese in the hope of converting them to Christianity.
Indian authorities said Chau had only an ordinary tourist visa and had not sought the special permission required to visit the restricted island.
[The Sentinelese are an indigenous people who inhabit North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal in India and are considered one of the world’s last uncontacted peoples. Designated a particularly vulnerable tribal group and a Scheduled Tribe, they belong to the broader class of Andamanese people.]
On 15 November, Chau attempted his first visit by the fishing boat that took him around 500–700 meters (1,600–2,300 ft) from the shore.
The fishermen warned Chau not to go farther, but he continued alone in a canoe with a Bible to the shore. As he approached the island, he saw the islanders and attempted to communicate with them, shouting: “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.”
He later recorded in his journal that he had greeted them and attempted to offer gifts, but they continued to approach him and he hurriedly retreated in his canoe.
On further visits, Chau recorded that the islanders reacted to him with a mixture of amusement, bewilderment and hostility. He attempted to sing worship songs to them, and spoke to them in Xhosa, after which they often fell silent, while other attempts to communicate ended with them bursting into laughter.
He recorded that they communicated with “lots of high pitched sounds” and gestures.
Eventually, when he tried to hand over fish and gifts, a boy shot a metal-headed arrow that pierced the Bible Chau was holding in front of his chest, and he left the island.
On his final visit, on 17 November, Chau instructed the fishermen to leave without him. The fishermen later saw the islanders dragging Chau’s body, and the next day they saw his body on the shore.
The Washington Post obtained Chau’s journal, which stated that he had a clear desire to convert the tribe and was aware of the risk of death he faced and of the illegality of his visits to the island. Chau wrote:
“Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”, “The eternal lives of this tribe is at hand”, and “I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed …Don’t retrieve my body.”
Police subsequently arrested seven fishermen for assisting Chau to get close to the restricted island. Chau’s death is being treated as a murder but there has been no suggestion that the Sentinelese could be charged.
On 7 February 2019, the U.S. government confirmed that no charges would be pursued against the tribe. Human rights group Survival International said it was possible that Chau had infected the tribe with pathogens to which they have no immunity, “with the potential to wipe out the entire tribe”.
Indian officials made several attempts to recover Chau’s body, but on 28 November decided to abandon those efforts. An anthropologist involved in the case told The Guardian that the risk of a dangerous clash between investigators and the islanders was too great to justify any further attempts.