'Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed'

Andamans death | How a tribe killed a missionary

As their boat docked near the shore of the North Sentinel island on Saturday morning, November 17, none of them were prepared for what came next. 

From a distance, the five fishermen saw a body being buried by the Sentinelese on the shore. Based on the figure and clothing, the men realised it was John Allen Chau. They fled, leaving the body there and returned to Port Blair, carrying with them, a 13-page journal the dead man had left behind. They informed Chau’s friend back in Port Blair about the tragedy and gave him the journal.

Chau's Journal, dated November 16:

“You guys might think I'm crazy, but I think it's worth it to declare Jesus to these people, Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed, please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I'll see you again when you pass through the veil. This is not a pointless thing - the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can't wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language as Revelations 7:9-10 states...I love you all and I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ.” 

On November 15 at midnight, Chau, along with a group of fishermen -- Saw Jampo, his sons Saw Watson and Saw Molian, Jampo's brothers Saw Taray and M Bhumi, all residents of Karmatang in middle Andaman -- docked at the off-limits North Sentinel Island. The crew was reportedly paid Rs 25,000 by Chau for their help. The fishermen did not want to accompany Chau further into the island. 

Three days later, all seven -- including two of Chau's friends -- were arrested for violating the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes (PAT) regulation, and for causing the death of John Allen Chau.

One of Chau's travel photos from June 2015. Credit: Instagram/@johnachau

How did Chau die? 

Chau was reportedly killed by arrows, shot by the Sentinelese. His body is yet to be recovered. The police have also reportedly registered a case of murder  against 'unknown members of Sentinelese Community'.

“After reaching the North Sentinel Island, Chau tried to contact the local tribesmen and offered some gifts such as a small football, a playing ring, fishing lines, scissors, medical kit etc. During his attempts to befriend the Sentinelese, he was shot with an arrow by an unknown person. He was last seen alive by the accompanying fishermen on November 16,” Andaman & Nicobar Islands DGP Dependra Pathak DGP told News18.

According to Pathak the shocked fishermen, on their return to Port Blair, narrated the incident to John’s friend Alexander (28), an electronic engineer by profession and a resident of Dairy Farm. "It was Alexander who got him (John) to meet Saw Jampo and Saw Remmis who arranged his trip to North Sentinel Islands for missionary activities. Alexander and Remmis had stayed back and the rest had left for North Sentinel Island on November 14," Pathak further said.

“Alexander immediately informed the police and on the basis of the statement of accompanying fisherman a case has been registered at PS Humfrygunj," said Pathak. 

Who was John Allen Chau?

Chau, was a world traveller, an adventurer and a Christian missionary. After finishing schooling from Vancouver Christian High School in southwestern Washington state, he went on to graduate from Oral Roberts University, a Christian college in Oklahoma in 2014, with a degree in health and exercise science. 

According to Seattle Times, he spent summers alone in a California cabin as a wilderness emergency responder, led backpacking expeditions in the Northwest’s Cascade Mountains, almost lost his leg to a rattlesnake bite, and coached soccer for poor children in Iraq and South Africa. 

But kayaking to the off-limits North Sentinel Island, a region inhabited by a tribe known for attacking outsiders with bows and arrows, proved too much for the 26-year-old, whom a friend recalled, wanted to go to the island to get to know the islanders' way of life, and to eventually share the Gospel and perhaps translate the Bible for them. 

North Sentinel Island, pictured in this photo-like image from the Advanced Land Imager on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite from November 20, 2009. NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using data provided by the NASA EO-1 team. Caption by Rebecca Lindsey

Who are the Sentinelese?

The Sentinelese are one of the four surviving tribes of the Andaman Islands and one of the last remaining isolated tribal groups, dating back to the time of the 'Out of Africa' migrations. According to India's 2011 census, only 15 Sentinelese were estimated to remain on the island, although there is uncertainty on their current numbers.

The Sentinelese stand guard on an island beach in 2005. Photo credit: CHRISTIAN CARON - CREATIVE COMMONS A-NC-SA

Mostly elusive, they have been photographed on one occasion in 2004 following the Tsunami when a member of the tribe was photographed on a beach, firing arrows at a helicopter sent to check on their welfare. 

In this handout photo provided by the Indian Coast Guard and Survival International and taken on December 28, 2004, a Sentinelese tribesman aims his arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter as it flies over North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands, in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Survival International, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of isolated tribal groups explains their preferred isolationism. 

"The British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands decimated the tribes living there, wiping out thousands of tribes people, and only a fraction of the original population now survive. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable," the group said.

Survival International had also reported that in 2006, members of the  Sentinelese tribe killed two poachers who had been illegally fishing in the surrounding waters of the North Sentinel Island after their boat drifted ashore.

Photo credit: Survival International.


"The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected," Survival International said.

Who is responsible when an isolated tribe kills an intruder?

As news of the tragedy spread like wildfire, a blame game ensued with some even pointing fingers at the Central government, for their decision to reverse its ‘eyes on hands off’ policy and lifting restrictions on visitation to the restricted islands. 

The decision to lift restricted area permit (RAP) notifications in August that opened up access to 29 islands has been criticized by Denis Giles, editor of the Andaman Chronicle, who believes that the policy tweaks are linked to Chau’s death. 

“In spite of all this, why did the government decide to open up the North Sentinel Island for tourism? Once the government announces that the RAP had been done away with, and it’s open for tourism – what message does it send to the world...This particular American tourist might have known that the RAP had been relaxed and he might have ventured out as a result,” Giles told News 18.

“The government has reversed its policy of non-interference. These are tribes that have chosen to remain isolated. So why did the government of India take this decision? Does it not mean that it is trying to advocate ‘tribal tourism’,” he asked.

Reacting to Chau's death, The International Christian Concern (ICC) agency also released a statement in which they alleged that “India has a history of attacks on foreign Christian missionaries” and that "this murder comes at a time when Indian Christians report ever-escalating levels of persecution across the country.”

However, Chau’s family issued a statement on Instagram honuoring his last wishes, asking the authorities to forgive the Sentinelese. They also demanded the release of the arrested men in connection with the incident.


John Allen Chau

A post shared by John Chau (@johnachau) on

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