Last week John Allen Chau died after making several attempts to reach the Sentinelese to preach Christianity – knowing it was illegal to go within five kilometers of the island. Fears that 21st-century diseases as mild as the common cold could kill off the tribe, or that experiencing electricity and the internet would devastate their lifestyle, has left them in a guarded bubble.
Indigenous Andaman men rowing through the Andaman Island chain.
According to experts, the body of missionary-adventurer John Allen Chau may never be recovered from the lost island where he fell in a volley of arrows fired by a reclusive tribe whose existence is threatened by the modern world.
The menace to the Sentinelese from Chau’s one-man invasion is such that tribal rights experts say no murder charges will ever be laid and Chau’s dead body will have to stay hidden to protect what is probably the world’s last pre-neolithic tribe.
Officials — who do not enforce their rule over North Sentinel island — have not even tried to send police ashore to the conversation the tribe who have been greeting outsiders with hostility for centuries.
Police sent a boat near for the second time since the killing on Friday.
“Due precautions were taken by the team to ensure that this particularly vulnerable tribal group are not disturbed and distressed during this exercise.”- The Police Statement.
Fears that 21st-century diseases as mild as the common cold could kill off the tribe, or that experiencing electricity and the internet would devastate their lifestyle, has left them in a guarded bubble that Chau sought to burst his message “Jesus loves you”.
“In above pic: The Sentinelese stand guard on an island beach.”
Pankaj Sekhsaria, a tribal rights expert and author on the Andaman and Nicobar islands, said it would be “a waste exercise” to try to retrieve Chau’s body.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to go anywhere near (North Sentinel) because it will create conflict with the community there.” – Pankaj Said.
“I don’t believe there is any good and safe way to retrieve the body without putting both the Sentinelese and those attempting it at danger,” added Sophie Grig, senior researcher for Survival International which campaigns for such isolated groups.
Anup Kapoor, an anthropology professor at the University of Delhi, said that someone wanting to open a dialogue with the Sentinelese had to show they were “on the same level.”
“Don’t wear anything,” he suggested. “Only then you can hope to have some sort of interaction.”
Mr. Kapoor once had contacts with the Onge, another Andamans tribe, adding: “It was only possible after I took off my clothes, except my underwear.”
The little knowledge of the Sentinelese believed to be the last surviving descendants of the first humans to arrive in Asia — and who 13th-century adventurer Marco Polo called “crude and savage” — is the main handicap.
Kapoor assumes, “We have no clue about their communication systems, their history, and culture, how can we go anywhere near them.
“What we know is that they have been killed and torture historically by the British and the Japanese. They hate everyone in uniforms. If they see us in uniforms, they will kill us on the spot.
“Let them be the way tribe. Leave tribe in peace in the ecosystem they are in. Do not disturb them because that will only make them more destructive.”
Andaman Police are now wrestling with a double difficulty: how to answer the prayers of Chau’s family and maintain the privacy around North Sentinel that is essential for the tribe’s survival.
Andamans police chief Dependra Pathak has said no timeline can be given for finding a dead body.
And Sekhsaria warned authorities may now have to strengthen inspection around North Sentinel to prevent a Chau copycat.
“The administration is captured of the matter, they are already thinking about the surveillance,” he said without giving detail.
Outsiders have had a rough gathering when going to North Sentinel. Arrows were fired at a helicopter that analyzes on the tribe after the devastating 2004 tsunami.
Police are talking with anthropologists and tribal welfare specialist about the best way to establish contact.
The Anthropological Survey of India has had previous elementary contact.
The survey’s Andaman chief C. Raghu said, “When we went there, nothing happened”. “Our seniors inspect the island and they came back. It is because we are a specialist and know the pulse of the people.
“It’s not just the danger of disease. You also have to assume of how to handle yourself, what to say and what to share with them. To them, someone gets there is from the outside, new world.”