An American tourist who tried to reach out to the pre-neolithic and isolated Sentinelese tribe in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was killed by a single arrow shot by a tribal, authorities said.
John Allen Chau is believed to have died around November 17. He arranged his trip to the restricted island for missionary activities, the Andaman Police said, adding that efforts were on to locate his body.
The incident took place in the restricted and unguarded North Sentinel Island, home to Sentinelese tribes.
Seven locals including some fishermen who facilitated Chau’s visit have been arrested. They confirmed seeing Chau being cut down by an arrow while trying to contact the tribe and offering them gifts like a small football, playing ring, fishing line, scissors and medical kit.
“During his attempts to befriend the tribals, he was shot with an arrow by an unknown person,” the police said.
This is not the first time when Sentinelese have attacked and killed outsiders. In 2006, two fishermen went near the island and were killed. The tribals also shot arrows at the helicopter that went to retrieve the bodies.
According to an Andaman journalist, Chau was keen to visit Sentinelese. His mother contacted the American Consulate in Chennai after he could not be reached for over a week, Denis Giles, editor of the Andaman Chronicle, told IANS.
Giles and green activists held the recent government decision to exclude 29 Andaman islands, including North Sentinel Island, from Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime to promote tourism responsible for the killing.
Earlier this month, the Indian government removed the islands from RAP, allowing tourists to visit the islands but after obtaining permission from the local administration.
Chau reached Port Blair on October 16 and left for the remote island on November 14, reaching it the next night.
He was last seen alive on November 16 by the fishermen who the next day saw “a body being dragged and buried by unknown persons” near the shore of the island.
“From the silhouette of the body, clothing and circumstances, it appeared to be Chau’s…,” the police said, adding that the information was passed on to the American’s Indian friend at Port Blair by the fishermen.
“North Sentinelese are the only isolated tribe of the world. They have never been contacted by outside world for thousands of years. Their hostility towards outsiders is open. What was the point in opening their area?” Giles asked.
The officials who spoke to IANS said they believed that the American did not take the mandatory permission to visit the island.
The government had declared about five kilometres of the surrounding waters of the North Sentinel island as a buffer and thus a prohibited zone. While the restrictions still apply, one can now easily acquire a permit and visit the island.
One of the most isolated tribes of the world, Sentinelese are estimated to number 50 to 100. Spread over 27 sq miles, North Sentinel Island is situated 58 km from Port Blair.
In January 1991, the tribe established its first friendly contact with the outside world for 23 minutes. A 13-member team lead by anthropologist S.A. Awradhi interacted with the tribes through gestures.
“The contact was made after years of safe distance observations and sending gifts,” said an official on the condition of anonymity.
Earlier, a team of scientists protected by security forces stepped on the island in 1967 but could not establish friendly contact.
The Andaman and Nicobar islands are home to six tribes — Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa, Sentinelese, Nicobarese and Shompen.
There are about 300 Jarawas, 100 Onges and 300 Shompens left. Another tribe called Jangil or Rutland Jarawa extincted around 1920 due to epidemic.