India cautious as it looks to recover American body

American John Allen Chau was killed by islanders in mid-November after paying fishermen to smuggle him to the island.

Map locates North Sentinel Island, India, where an American was believed killed by isolated tribe.

Indian officials have travelled repeatedly in recent days near the remote island where an American missionary was killed by people who have long resisted the outside world. But they have not set foot onto North Sentinel Island since the killing, and it remains unclear if they will.

“They are a treasure,” Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on the Andaman and Nicobar island groups, said of the Sentinelese people. “We cannot go and force our way in. We don’t want to harm them.”

The Sentinelese, who scholars believe are descendants of Africans who migrated to the area about 50,000 years ago, survive on the small, forested island by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. Almost nothing is known of their lives, except that they attack outsiders with spears or bows and arrows.

American John Allen Chau was killed by islanders in mid-November after paying fishermen to smuggle him to the island, where outsiders are effectively forbidden by Indian law. The fishermen told authorities that they saw the Sentinelese bury Chau’s body on the beach. The notes Chau left behind say he wanted to bring Christianity to the islanders.

A boat carrying police and other officials approached North Sentinel on Friday and Saturday, watching the Sentinelese through binoculars. On Saturday the tribesmen were armed with spears and bows and arrows, but they did not attempt to shoot them at the authorities, Pathak said.

“We watched them from a distance and they watched us from a distance,” he said.

Officials have not given up on recovering the body, he said. But they are moving very gingerly, studying the 2006 killing of fishermen whose boat had drifted onto the island.

“We are looking carefully at what happened then, and what (the Sentinelese) did,” he said. “We are consulting anthropologists to see what kind of friendly gesture we can make.”

The islanders buried the two fishermen on the beach in 2006, but dug up the corpses after a few days and propped them upright. Authorities apparently never recovered those bodies, and the killings were never investigated.

There has been no significant contact with the Sentinelese for generations. Anthropologists used to occasionally drop off gifts of coconuts and bananas, but even those visits were stopped years ago.

Anthropologist P.C. Joshi said he understands why authorities want to recover the body.

“If there is a death, then the cause of death should be known. It’s important,” said Joshi, a professor at Delhi University.

“Of course, we can’t prosecute” the islanders if they killed Chau, he said. Plus, he noted, it may already be too late to learn much from the body, since the heat and humidity on North Sentinel will cause rapid decomposition.

“Ultimately, it’s becoming futile,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Tim Sullivan contributed to this report.

Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Video invites visitors back to valley

Chamber video says: “Hey, hey! Come back and play, play.”

Invermere deer ‘hoofs’ woman and dog

Aggressive deer incidents increase this year, as woman and dog left bruised and injured

School District 6 nominated Summit Youth Hub for award

Hub nominated for a B.C Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association (BCPVPA) Partnership Award

Invermere library reopens for summer

Summer Reading Club and Pop-up Story Time return

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Bringing support to Indigenous students and communities, while fulfilling a dream

Mitacs is a nonprofit organization that operates research and training programs

Most Read