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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cermaq Canada continues to adapt operations amid Covid-19 pandemic while supporting employees and local communities

As governments, communities and Canadians continue to modify behaviors and activities based… Continue reading

No more ferries will sail from Departure Bay, Mill Bay, Brentwood Bay during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. Ferries announces major changes to sailing schedules for 60 days starting Saturday, April 4

COVID-19: North Islanders bang pots and pans to honour essential workers

‘Hopefully we can keep it going for them because these people are showing up at work every day for us’

Bradshaw’s Photo Highlight: Juvenile eagle

‘I was able to drive up close to it and get a few pictures without getting out of the truck’

VIDEO: ‘Used gloves and masks go in the garbage,’ says irked B.C. mayor

Health officials have said single-use gloves won’t do much to curb the spread of COVID-19

Sex workers face new risks during COVID-19 pandemic

‘Desperation has kicked in’ for vulnerable, undocumented workers unable to access help

Unclear if Cowichan couple refusing to self-isolate will face penalty

No fines or charges have been laid to date, including Cowichan couple who won’t self isolate

COVID-19: Postponed surgeries will be done, B.C. health minister says

Contract with private surgical clinic to help clear backlog

Black Press Media ad sparks discussion about value of community newspapers

White Rock resident hopes front-page note shines light on revenue loss during COVID-19 crisis

Emergency funding available for North Island College students

Funding for students experiencing financial strain that may affect their ability to continue studies

Don’t stop going to the doctor, just do it virtually: B.C. association

Doctors encourage patients to access telephone, online visits

Businesses advised to prepare for federal, B.C. COVID-19 assistance

Canada Revenue Agency portal expected to open next week

Dogs are property, not kids, B.C. judge tells former couple

Court decision made on competing lawsuits over Zeus and Aurora — a pit bull and pit bull cross

Most Read