Missionary and the encounter with isolated tribe: “Sentinel Island”

A 27-year-old American who travelled to a remote Indian island last week was probably killed by the indigenous population. The hunter-gatherers on the isolated North Sentinel Island have already attacked visitors before.

American missionary John Allen Chau had bribed a bunch of fishermen to smuggle him to the island on their boat, the local police say. He finished the last piece himself by canoe. The man had visited the area before. And wanted to meet the Sentinelese who live on the North Sentinel, in the Bay of Bengal.

However, a visit to the island is forbidden. The Sentinelese are known as one of the most isolated peoples in the world. In the past, the islanders often attacked outsiders who ventured into their territory.

Bow and arrow

The American was also hosted hostile. One of the fishermen saw from his boat how the Sentinels shot with a bow. And arrow towards Chau after the traveller was dropped off on the island. “He was attacked with arrows, but kept walking,” the fisherman told Indian media. The man also claims that he saw how the islanders cached Chau with a rope and dragged him over the sand.

The fishermen would initially have fled from the violence. When they later returned to the island, they saw the man’s body lying on the beach. He was probably murdered on Saturday. The authorities have arrested the fishermen involved. No action will likely be taken against the indigenous tribe itself.

Mysterious tribe

The Sentinelese have a rather separate status. For 60,000 years they have populated the 72 square kilometre paradise-like island, surrounded by coral reefs and almost completely covered by mangroves. Estimates on the size of the trunk range from forty to five hundred people.

But actually, nobody really has an idea. Contact with the inhabitants of the remote island in the Bay of Bengal is, to say the least, scarce. Their language and customs are a mystery to us. What we are (almost) certain: they do not have internet, agriculture or firearms. It is suspected that these hunter-gatherers do not know how to make fire. But wait for a lightning strike and keep the fire burning for as long as possible. According to experts, if it is allowed to speak of it, their life is best compared with that of our ancestors 10,000 years ago.

The ‘greeting’ that Chau received is their usual ritual when visitors enter their island. In 2006 two fishermen were killed who came a bit too close. A helicopter that wanted to help survivors after the tsunami in 2004 was also treated on arrows.

Plastic car

At that time, the Indian government had already stopped all attempts to make contact. From 1967 India tried to spawn the islanders with gifts, without much success. On a National Geographic expedition in 1974, Sentinelese kept a small plastic car, a doll, coconuts and pans. Their answer? You guessed it: arrows. The director of the intended documentary was hit in his thigh.


Meanwhile, the island is left alone. In fact, a visit to the island is forbidden. And according to organization Survival International this is a sensible matter: “They are the most vulnerable community on this planet. They are powerless against diseases such as flu or measles. The chance that they will be eradicated by an epidemic is very big.”

Another reason, therefore, to sail with a big bow around this special island.

ANP, The Guardian, India Today, AD
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