NEW DELHI – A 27-year-old American tourist was killed by members of one of India’s most isolated hunter-and-gatherer tribes, according to police in the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The American man, John Allen Chau, paid five fishermen to take him to North Sentinel Island, said Deepak Yadav, a senior police official in the city of Port Blair.
The island is home to the tiny Sentinelese tribe, whose members reject contact with the wider world and react with hostility and violence to attempts by outsiders to interact with them. The island is off-limits to visitors under Indian law.
Yadav said that Chau and the fishermen arrived at the island around midnight on Nov. 14. The next day, Chau used a kayak to approach the island and attempted to speak with the islanders, who have been known to fire arrows at interlopers. The fishermen told police that they last saw Chau alive on Friday.
The following morning, they saw his body “being dragged and then buried,” Yadav said.
Police sent a helicopter to conduct reconnaissance on Tuesday and a separate team also traveled to the area on Wednesday. An investigation is underway, and the fishermen involved have been arrested, as has a friend of Chau’s in Port Blair who helped organize the boat trip to the island, the police official said.
“They were very well aware of the situation, but they still arranged for a boat and everything,” said Yadav, a move he described as “pushing [Chau] in the mouth of death.”
Chau, who was born in Alabama, had made four prior trips to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands starting in 2015 and arrived in Port Blair in mid-October on a tourist visa, according to police. Police also discovered a journal belonging to Chau where he wrote about his desire to spread God’s word.
“We are aware of reports concerning a U.S. citizen in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,” said a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in the southern Indian city of Chennai in a statement. “When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.”
No one knows exactly how many Sentinelese live on North Sentinel Island. Attempts by Indian census officials to count them from a distance have put their number at fewer than 100.
The Indian government adopted a policy of “isolation with minimal intervention” toward the Sentinelese and several other tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are located in the Bay of Bengal off the eastern coast of India.
In 2006, the Sentinelese allegedly killed two fishermen whose boat drifted onto the island after they fell asleep. The tribal people reportedly fired arrows at helicopters sent to retrieve the bodies.