If you’ve been scouring the internet at any time in the last few days, you may have seen headlines about an American missionary who was killed by the Sentinelese tribe on the North Sentinel Island. This remote island falls under the Indian Government’s jurisdiction because it is a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. But aside from the evocative headlines that spread across the internet, what we were more concerned with was understanding the facts of this story.

Firstly, how many Indians can truthfully say that they knew that tribes like these were in existence and are a part of our country?  Let’s start with that. As mentioned earlier, the North Sentinel Island is a part of the Andaman & Nicobar islands. Secondly, the Sentinelese tribe that lives there are known not to have any contact with the outside world. It is believed that their way of living in the last 60,000 years hasn’t changed much at all. They are one of the few such tribes on earth that live a secluded life among the 100 such uncontacted tribes as per 2013. They are known to be the most isolated tribe on the planet. So what really went on and how did the American man land up there? Here’s the story.

What happened?

John Allen Chau, an American missionary and tourist, set out to visit the North Sentinel Island. It is home to the Sentinelese tribe that is known for attacking any trespasser in order to protect their tribe from any threat or disease. Because they have no contact with the outside world, they also don’t have immunity against viruses that are common in modern-day society. So while a common cold is NBD to you, it could possibly be fatal to them. The Indian government, therefore, imposed a strict ban on visiting this island to protect both the tribes’ people and tourists as well. Despite that, Chau tried contacting the tribe for two consecutive days. His purpose to contact them was to preach Christianity to the tribe. The language spoken by this tribe is unknown by others, including the neighbouring tribes too, which means they are on the brink of extinction. With a bible in hand, he managed to escape the first day when things turned a little ugly. The next day, determined to do what he was there for, Chau went to the island again with the help of some 7 fishermen who took him there illegally and were all later arrested. Sometime later, the fisherman saw his dead body being dragged and buried in the sand by the tribe. Chau had written his experience and encounters in his diary from the first day of contact. He had mentioned he may not return alive and that the tribe may kill him before he could convince them to convert.

Two Sides Of A Coin

It is an extremely sad news undoubtedly. But, it is also a harsh reminder for others to take such bans seriously for their own safety. The tribe has never really known any contact from near or afar. Helicopters, cameras, boats and any type of device that came near the island were met with arrows. It is estimated there are only about 40 Sentinelese tribals left as of now, while the previous census before this in 1991 recorded 117 members of the tribe living there. Noble intentions aside, the choice to attempt any contact despite illegality and with the knowledge of potential danger was unfortunate. What’s really sad though is that Chau’s body too cannot be recovered as it too dangerous and disruptive.

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