Police on the Andaman islands have staked out a remote area where tribespeople were seen burying the body of an American adventurer and Christian missionary after allegedly killing him with arrows.
Indian authorities are trying to recover the remains of 26-year-old John Allen Chau, who was killed by North Sentinel islanders who apparently shot him with arrows and then buried his body on the beach earlier this month.
But police on the islands in the Bay of Bengal said on Saturday that they have to consult with experts to learn “the nuances of the group’s conduct and behaviour, particularly in this kind of violent behaviour”.
During an investigation of the island’s surroundings on Friday, officials sailed close to the beach and spotted four or five North Sentinel islanders moving in the area. They studied their behavior for several hours, said Dependra Pathak, the director-general of police of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where North Sentinel Island is located.
“We have more or less identified the site and the area in general,” he said.
Friday’s visit was the second boat expedition of the week by a team of police and officials from the forest department, tribal welfare department and coast guard, Pathak said.
The fishermen who had taken Chau to the shore saw the tribespeople dragging and burying his body on the morning of 17 November.
Officials typically do not travel to the North Sentinel area, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The only contacts, occasional “gift giving” visits in which bananas and coconuts were passed by small teams of officials and scholars who remained in the surf, were years ago.
Indian ships monitor the waters around the island, trying to ensure outsiders do not go near the Sentinelese, who have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone.
Chau, who was described by friends as a fervent Christian, went to “share the love of Jesus,” said Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations. The Missouri-based organisation helped train Chau, discussed the risks with him and sent him on the mission, to support him in his “life’s calling,” she added.
“He wanted to have a long-term relationship, and if possible, to be accepted by them and live amongst them,” she said.
Police say Chau knew that the Sentinelese resisted all contact by outsiders, firing arrows and spears at passing helicopters and killing fishermen who drift onto their shore. Notes that Chau left behind made clear he knew he might be killed, police said.
“I DON’T WANT TO DIE,” wrote Chau, who appeared to want to bring Christianity to the islanders. “Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue. No I don’t think so.”
Chau paid fishermen to take him near North Sentinel, using a kayak to paddle to shore and bringing gifts, including a football and fish.
The Indian government lifted restrictions on traveling to the island in August, Ho said. She said she couldn’t comment on why Chau arrived there the way he did, but that he carefully planned the trip.
All Nations contacted the US state department, Ho said. She did not know whether it would be possible to recover Chau’s body.
“We are just in grief and in shock about his death,” she said. “At the same time, we consider it a real honour to have worked with him, to have been a part of his journey.”
Scholars know almost nothing about the island, including how many people live there or what language they speak. The Andamans once had other similar groups, believed to have been migrants from Africa and south-east Asia who settled in the island chain centuries ago. But their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past century as a result of disease, intermarriage and migration.
Five fishermen, a friend of Chau’s and a local tourist guide have been arrested for helping Chau.