Tribes Are Not for Tourists

John Allen Chau was an international wanderer with an outsized objective. In his diary, he admitted that he would take it upon himself to save an indigenous tribe from the “clutches of Satan.” It was an ambitious mission that history has so often taught us to cease.

The American, aged 26, had visited the Andaman Islands on numerous occasions. On his last journey, he packed a bible along with other gifts aimed to entice the Sentinelese people. He had also been in contact with a local missionary named Alexander, and some fishermen to help him along the way. The musings in Chau’s diary suggest that he knew very well that what he was doing was illegal, putting everyone involved at significant risk.

Upon hearing the news of his death, Chau’s family took to Instagram. They wrote, “He loved God, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.” They declared that they had forgiven those responsible for his fatality.

Indian authorities are now trying to retrieve Chau’s body, which was reportedly buried on the Sentinel coastline. This will prove to be a difficult task, however, as precautions must be made so as not to distress the tribe during the process. Police must find a way to safely bring Chau’s body back to his family while abiding by the seclusive nature of North Sentinel. The Sentinelese are highly susceptible to a more modern lifestyle, and there’s a fear that 21st-century diseases even as mild as the common cold could wipe them out. Progressive technologies like the Internet are also deemed unfavourable, and the Sentinelese remain in a guarded abyss.

The Andaman police have filed the case under section 302/34 IPC against the Sentinelese, holding them responsible for murder. What happened to Chau is unfortunate, but he is not the victim in this case. On reporting the incident, many are quick to forget that he’d broken the law, serving as a major threat to the Sentinelese tribe. Trespassing onto the island is a crime and Chau is culpable.

His killing is a cry for tighter restrictions on the island of North Sentinel. It was dubious how the boy could even make several trips without being detected by the local authorities. The Indian government cannot and should not take this lightly.