US tourist ‘killed’ by endangered Andaman island tribesmen

John Allen Chau was killed by bows and arrows as tried to go to restricted land in India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands.

A United States tourist is believed to have been killed by an endangered Indian island tribe after he attempted to go to its restricted island, Indian police said.

John Allen Chau, 26, was killed by members of the Sentinelese community using bow and arrows, according to multiple media accounts.

Seven fishermen have been arrested for facilitating Chau’s visit to North Sentinel Island, where the killing apparently occurred, police officer Vijay Singh said.

Visits to the island, which is part of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, are heavily restricted by the government.

“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which advocates for tribal groups’ rights said.

Corry said in a statement on Tuesday that Chau not only put himself in danger but also the welfare of the tribe, which has had had very limited contact with the outside the world.

“It’s not impossible that the Sentinelese have just been infected by deadly pathogens to which they have no immunity, with the potential to wipe out the entire tribe,” Corry added.

According to Reuters news agency, Chau had made two or three other trips to the island this month, making contact with the tribe, but always returning to his boat. He told the fisherman on November 16 that he would not come back from the island and instructed them to return home and pass some handwritten notes he had made to a friend. The next morning the fisherman saw his body being dragged across a beach and buried in the same, the police chief said, adding, “This was a misplaced adventure in a highly protected area.”

Chau’s social media posts identify him as an adventurer and explorer. In a 2015 interview with The Outbound Collective, an online community of adventure travellers, Chau was asked what was on the top of “his must-do adventure list right now”.

“Going back to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India is on the top – there’s so much to see and do there!” Chau replied.

Indian media suggested that Chau had a desire to meet the tribes in order to preach Christianity.

The US consulate in Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, was aware of the reports concerning a US tourist in the islands, but spokesperson Kathleen Hosie declined to comment further due to privacy considerations.

Authorities in the Union Territory launched helicopter search teams to look for Chau’s body but said the helicopters were unable to land at the island as the Sentinelese were hostile to any attempt at approaching them.

‘Fear of outsiders is understandable’

The Sentinelese people live on their own small, forested island and are known to resist all contact with outsiders.

Taking videos of the Sentinelese people is prohibited. In 2017, the government clarified that the Sentinelese are identified as an “aboriginal tribe” and that videos showing them cannot be uploaded on social media or the internet.

“The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone,” Survivor International’s Corry said. “Their wishes should be respected,” he added.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of islands at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. In addition to the protected tribes, the islands also host a large presence of the Indian Navy with sensitive installations.

According to Survivor International, thousands of tribespeople were wiped out during the British colonial occupation of the islands. “So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable,” Corry said.

Shiv Viswanathan, a social scientist and a professor at Jindal Global Law School, said the North Sentinel Island was a protected area and not open to tourists.

“The exact population of the tribe is not known, but it is declining,” Viswanathan said. “The government has to protect them.”

The tribe made headlines after a tsunami devastated the region in 2004. Members of the tribe shot arrows at navy helicopters that went to check on their wellbeing.

Poachers are known to fish illegally in the waters around the island, catching turtles and diving for lobsters and sea cucumbers. Tribespeople killed two Indian fishermen in 2006 when their boat broke loose and drifted onto the shore.



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