India cautious as it looks to recover American body

American John Allen Chau was killed by islanders in mid-November after paying fishermen to smuggle him to the island.

Map locates North Sentinel Island, India, where an American was believed killed by isolated tribe.

Map locates North Sentinel Island, India, where an American was believed killed by isolated tribe.

Indian officials have travelled repeatedly in recent days near the remote island where an American missionary was killed by people who have long resisted the outside world. But they have not set foot onto North Sentinel Island since the killing, and it remains unclear if they will.

“They are a treasure,” Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on the Andaman and Nicobar island groups, said of the Sentinelese people. “We cannot go and force our way in. We don’t want to harm them.”

The Sentinelese, who scholars believe are descendants of Africans who migrated to the area about 50,000 years ago, survive on the small, forested island by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. Almost nothing is known of their lives, except that they attack outsiders with spears or bows and arrows.

American John Allen Chau was killed by islanders in mid-November after paying fishermen to smuggle him to the island, where outsiders are effectively forbidden by Indian law. The fishermen told authorities that they saw the Sentinelese bury Chau’s body on the beach. The notes Chau left behind say he wanted to bring Christianity to the islanders.

A boat carrying police and other officials approached North Sentinel on Friday and Saturday, watching the Sentinelese through binoculars. On Saturday the tribesmen were armed with spears and bows and arrows, but they did not attempt to shoot them at the authorities, Pathak said.

“We watched them from a distance and they watched us from a distance,” he said.

Officials have not given up on recovering the body, he said. But they are moving very gingerly, studying the 2006 killing of fishermen whose boat had drifted onto the island.

“We are looking carefully at what happened then, and what (the Sentinelese) did,” he said. “We are consulting anthropologists to see what kind of friendly gesture we can make.”

The islanders buried the two fishermen on the beach in 2006, but dug up the corpses after a few days and propped them upright. Authorities apparently never recovered those bodies, and the killings were never investigated.

There has been no significant contact with the Sentinelese for generations. Anthropologists used to occasionally drop off gifts of coconuts and bananas, but even those visits were stopped years ago.

Anthropologist P.C. Joshi said he understands why authorities want to recover the body.

“If there is a death, then the cause of death should be known. It’s important,” said Joshi, a professor at Delhi University.

“Of course, we can’t prosecute” the islanders if they killed Chau, he said. Plus, he noted, it may already be too late to learn much from the body, since the heat and humidity on North Sentinel will cause rapid decomposition.

“Ultimately, it’s becoming futile,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Tim Sullivan contributed to this report.

Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pet owners are leaving more dog waste than ever before on Nanaimo’s paths and trails, says letter writer. (Stock photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Dog owners need to pick up after their pets

Letter writer says he’s ‘disgusted’ by dog walkers not picking up their dog waste

The Nanaimo African Heritage Society is capping its month of Black History Month celebrations with a virtual gala on Sunday, Feb. 28. (News Bulletin photo)
Nanaimo African Heritage Society presents virtual Black History Month gala

Event to feature a variety of speakers and performers

(Black Press file)
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools reports COVID-19 exposure at Cedar Elementary

School district says Island Health has completed contact tracing

(News Bulletin file)
RDN warns residents not to give financial info over phone

Resident hung up and called RDN after receiving call for credit card information

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from the beach in rescue attempt in Nanaimo

Animal dies in spite of efforts of marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

1957 photo shows Six Mile House-sponsored #4 1932 Ford stock car with Frank Morris (from left), Ted Mackenzie, Bill Sim and driver Gerry Sylvester. (Bud Glover/Victoria Auto Racing Hall of Fame)
Memories race as Western Speedway approaches its finish line

‘It was life to us:’ Vancouver Island racers, crew will never forget what the track gave them

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen to field COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

Snuneymuxw artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun is among the artists participating in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Rain Shadow exhibit. His piece, ‘We Fell from the Sky/Together and Apart,’ depicts a Snuneymuxw creation story. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores the ways people think about place

‘Rain Shadow’ features work mostly by Vancouver Island and Gulf Island artists

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Most Read