A 27-year-old American missionary was murdered by an Indian tribe after traveling to their remote island with hopes of sharing the Gospel. John Allen Chau, who is originally from Vancouver, Washington, was viciously attacked with arrows the moment he set foot on North Sentinel Island, which is home to the Sentinelese tribe.
Indian authorities said Chau was determined to travel to the island and preach the Gospel. To reach the ancient tribe, he had to convince a group of fishermen to first transport him to within close proximity of the territory, before venturing the last section of the journey alone in his canoe. His body was found shortly after he arrived on the Island, according to local fishermen.
However, despite being mercilessly executed by the tribesmen, the individuals behind his death are unlikely to face criminal prosecution. According to the Daily Mail, this is due to a government initiative that prevents the tribe from being in contact with the outside world, in a bid to protect their way of life and shield them from diseases. As a result of the protection laws, contact with the tribespeople is strictly prohibited.
Despite this bizarre judicial mitigation, International Christian Concern (ICC)reported that “a case of murder has been registered against unknown members of the Sentinelese tribe” following the incident. According to reports, the fishermen who arranged the boat ride for Chau are among those arrested.
Chau reportedly arrived in the country on a tourist visa but was determined to use his time to evangelize the unreached.
“We refuse to call him a tourist,” said Director General of Police of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Dependra Pathak, according to CNN. “Yes, he came on a tourist visa but he came with a specific purpose to preach on a prohibited island.”
“According to the fishermen, they used a wooden boat fitted with motors to travel to the island on November 15,” Pathak explained. “The boat stopped 500-700 meters (1,640 – 2,300 ft) away from the island and (the American missionary) used a canoe to reach the shore of the island. He came back later that day with arrow injuries. On the 16th, the (tribespeople) broke his canoe. So he came back to the boat swimming. He did not come back on the 17th; the fishermen later saw the tribespeople dragging his body around.”
According to one source quoted by AFP, Chau “continued walking,” despite being shot at with the lethal arrows.
“He was attacked by arrows but he continued walking. The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body. They were scared and fled but returned next morning to find his body on the sea shore,” the source said.
ICC regional manager William Stark said that his organization was “extremely concerned” by the incident. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to both John’s family and friends,” he added, noting that “a full investigation must be launched and those responsible must be brought to justice.”
Patak noted that a multi-agency team is currently trying to recover Chau’s body.
A 2011 survey spotted just 15 tribespeople on the island. In 2001, the total population was estimated to be 39. Members of the tribe have shown themselves to be hostile in the past. Following the devastating 2004 tsunami, there were reports that some of the tribe had survived, prompting the deployment of a Navy helicopter to check on them. However, the aircraft approached, members of the tribe began to fire arrows at them.
“So we knew that they were safe,” the pilot told the BBC of the incident.
Then, in 2006, campaign group Survival International said two fishermen had been killed by the tribe after attempting to breach the island. The head of Survival International, a human rights organization that campaigns for the rights of indigenous people groups, called the incident a “tragedy” that “should never have been allowed to happen.”
“The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected,” said International Director, Stephen Corry.
Others, however, praised Chau for his courage and bravery in attempting to reach this remote group for Jesus.
In a profile of Chau posted to adventuring website “The Outbound Collective,” he was asked what was on the top of “must-do adventure list.” His answer? To visit the very islands that would result in his death.
“Going back to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India is on the top — there’s so much to see and do there!” he said.
Found within the detailed profile of his travel and adventuring escapades was a rather chilling remark in light of his untimely death. When asked what initially drew him to life in the outdoors, he responded:
“Growing up, I remember dusting off a massive tome in my dad’s downstairs study titled Robinson Crusoe. After struggling my way to read it with early elementary school English, I started readingeasier kid-friendly books like Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, and Sign of the Beaver, the latter of which inspired my brother and I to paint our faces with wild blackberry juice and tramp through our backyard with bows and spears we created from sticks. Since then, the outdoors have been my home.”
Do pray for Chau’s family at this difficult time.