Family of American killed by Andaman tribe forgives killers, calls for release of fishermen

[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ohn Allen Chau was the first ever American to made it to the remote North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean And he did not come empty handed, he came bearing gifts that included a football and fish.

He went on to interact with some of the tribesmen — who survive by hunting, fishing and collecting wild plants but are also known for attacking anyone who comes near with bows and arrows and spears — until they became angry and shot an arrow at him.

The arrow struck a book Chau was carrying, which an acquaintance said was a Bible. The 26-year-old adventurer and Christian missionary then swam back to a boat of fishermen that was waiting at a safe distance.

That night, he wrote about his adventures and left his notes with the fishermen. He returned to the island the next day, on November 16. Nobody knows happened that day, but on the following morning the fishermen watched from the boat as tribesmen dragged Chau’s body along the beach.

On Wednesday, Dependera Pathak, director-general of police (DGP) on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, said that the seven fishermen have been arrested for helping the American reach North Sentinel Island. Visits to the island are heavily restricted by the government, and officials were working with anthropologists to recover the body.

“It was a case of misdirected adventure,” Pathak said. Chau was apparently shot and killed by arrows, but the cause of death can’t be confirmed until his body is recovered, Pathak told The Associated Press.

‘He had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people’

Phone messages left with relatives were not immediately returned on Wednesday. In an Instagram post, his mourning family wrote, “He was a beloved son, brother, uncle, and best friend to us. To others he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT, an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer. He loved God, life, helping those in need, and he had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”

The family also said it forgave his killers and called for the release of those who assisted him in his quest to reach the island. “He ventured out on his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions,” the family said.

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John Allen Chau

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Authorities say Chau arrived in the area on October 16 and stayed in a hotel while he prepared to travel to the island. It was not his first time in the region: he had visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 2015 and 2016. North Sentinel sits at the intersection of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

With help from a friend, Chau hired seven fishermen for $325 to take him there on a boat, which also towed the kayak Chau used to reach the island the first time, Pathak said.

After the fishermen realised Chau had been killed, they left for Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they broke the news to Chau’s friend, who notified his family, Pathak said. Police charged the seven fishermen with endangering the life of the American by assisting him to reach a prohibited area.

Chau was driven by twin passions

Chau had wanted ever since high school to go to North Sentinel to share Jesus with the indigenous people, said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Covenant Journey, a program that takes college students on a tour of Israel to affirm their Christian faith. Chau went through that program in 2015. “He didn’t go there for just adventure. I have no question it was to bring the gospel of Jesus to them,” Staver said.

Chau was carrying a Bible that was hit by an arrow when he was first shot at by the tribesmen on November 15, according to notes Chau left with the fishermen that Staver said he has seen.

Staver said Chau’s last notes to his family on November 16 told them that they might think he was crazy but that he felt it was worth it and asked that they not be angry if he was killed.

One of Chau’s friends said he spent a month at his home in Cape Town, South Africa, before going to India. Casey Prince, 39, declined to discuss what Chau told him about his upcoming travel plans, saying he would rather talk about the kind of man his friend was.

“If he was taking a risk, he was very aware of it,” Prince said, recalling the time Chau told him about being bitten by a rattlesnake. Prince described him as easy to like and driven by twin passions: a love of the outdoors and fervent Christianity.

Chau’s Instagram boasts of photos form his adventures, which include, mountaineering, diving, trekking and hiking.

Proper protection of Sentinelese people needed

Survival International, an organisation that works for the rights of tribal people, said the killing of the American should prompt Indian authorities to properly protect the lands of the Sentinelese.

“The British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands decimated the tribes living there, wiping out thousands of tribespeople, and only a fraction of the original population now survives. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable,” Stephen Corry, the group’s director, said in a statement.

Shiv Viswanathan, a social scientist and a professor at Jindal Global Law School, said 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.” Tribespeople killed two Indian fishermen in 2006 when their boat broke loose and drifted onto shore.

(With inputs from AP)