The death of an American has some questioning the actions of those who say they want to explore remote areas and convert native peoples.

Earlier this week, American John Allen Chau, 26, was reportedly killed by members of an isolated Indian island tribe.

The islanders allegedly attacked Chau with arrows as he attempted to access North Sentinel Island illegally via kayak, according to regional police.

The island is part of the Andaman Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal in India. Its inhabitants avoid all outside contact and influences and are considered a sovereign nation. The Indian government prohibits visitors to the island.

Investigators said Chau’s stated goal in visiting North Sentinel Island was to convert islanders to Christianity. Little is known about Sentinelese culture, customs and beliefs, and Chau reportedly presumed island inhabitants followed a tribal religion.

Four years ago, Chau told Outbound Collective, “I love to explore.” In the interview, he goes on to say he completed a term as an AmeriCorps volunteer, coached soccer and was an emergency medical technician.

In the Outbound article, he said his top, must-do adventure was to return to Andaman and Nicobar Islands because “there’s so much to see and do there.”

Chau made good on his word, visiting the region several times in recent years. Local fishermen helped Chau visit North Sentinel Island illegally four to five times during his most recent trip, reports the BBC.

Chau was from Vancouver, Wash., and most recently lived in Alabama. He apparently used an Instagram account, @JohnAChau, to post about his international trips. Using photos and captions, he described himself as an adventure tourist and “snakebite survivor.”

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This week, a family member used the account to post a message about the “unconfirmed report” that Chau was killed in India. The post alluded to Chau’s reputation as a Christian missionary and mountaineer.

In late October, Chau posted a selfie with a member of a boat crew and noted that he was traveling in South Africa and India.

The Indian Census estimates the Sentinelese number from 50 to 150 people. They are listed among India’s “Scheduled Tribes,” recognized in the Constitution of India as disadvantaged peoples.

The Sentinelese speak a language unrelated to any other in the area, notes travel writer Resham Sengar. They are believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world and have lived in isolation on the island for about 60,000 years.

In more than 200 years of attempted contact, we know island inhabitants are aggressive in their desire to be left alone.

The Indian government prohibits visitors from getting closer than 3 miles, writes Sengar. This is for the safety of outsiders and to protect the tribespeople, who likely lack immunity to common viruses.

Only one contact program has been relatively successful, writes Sengar. It began in the early 1960s and consisted mainly of gifts left on a North Sentinel beach. Attempts at interaction were rebuffed. The program ceased in the 1990s.

Chau is among a handful of people who have repeatedly attempted to make contact and build relationships with the tribespeople.

At least seven fishermen believed to have illegally ferried Chau to the North Sentinel have been arrested. In addition, Andaman and Nicobar police have opened a murder investigation into Chau’s death. Indian authorities may add homicide to the list of charges against the fishermen, according to the New York Times.

Karris Golden writes The Courier’s weekly faith and values column. Email her at onfaith@karrisgolden.com.


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