Andaman tribe kill American tourist, activists blame government

Nov 21, 2018
New Delhi: An American tourist has been killed by the pre-neolithic and isolated Sentinelese tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands while trying to reach out to them, Andaman Police sources said.

John Allen Chau is believed to have died around November 14. Police officials are trying to recover his body around the restricted and unguarded North Sentinel Island home to Sentinelese tribes, government sources told IANS.

Seven locals including some fishermen, who facilitated Chaw’s visit, have been arrested. They confirmed seeing Chau being shot down by arrows fired by Sentinalese.

This is not the first time when Sentenalese have attacked and killed trespassers. In 2006, two fishermen went near the island and were killed. The tribals also shot arrows at the helicopter that went to retrieve the bodies.

According to an Andaman journalist, Chau was keen to visit Sentinaliese. His mother contacted the American Consulate in Chennai after he could not be reached for over a week.

“Chaw’s mother contacted the US Consulate, which in turn reached out to Andaman Police. The police investigated and arrested the seven people who facilitated his visit,” Denis Giles, editor of the Andaman Chronicle, told IANS.

Giles and green activists held the recent government decision to exclude 29 Andaman islands, including North Sentinel Island, from Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime to promote tourism responsible for the killing.

Earlier this month, the Modi government removed the islands from RAP, allowing tourists to visit the islands after obtaining permission from the local administration.

“North Sentinelese are the only isolated tribe of the world. They have never been contacted by outside world for thousands of years. Their hostility towards outsiders is open. What was the point in opening their area?” Giles asked.

The officials who spoke to IANS said they believed that the American did not take the mandatory permission to visit the island.

The government had declared about five kilometres of the surrounding waters of the North Sentinel island as a buffer and thus a prohibited zone. While the restrictions still apply, one can now easily acquire a permit and visit the island.

“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen. A few months ago the authorities lifted one of the restrictions that had been protecting the Sentinelese tribe’s island from foreign tourists which sent the wrong message and may have contributed to this terrible event,” Stephen Corry, Director Survival International, said in a statement.

The organisation now fears that Sentinelese might have been infected by deadly pathogens to which they have no immunity.

One of the most isolated tribes of the world, Sentinelese are estimated to number 50 to 100. Spread over 27 sq miles, North Sentinel Island is situated 58 km from Port Blair.

In January 1991, the tribe established its first friendly contact with the outside world for 23 minutes. A 13-member team lead by anthropologist S.A. Awradhi interacted with the tribes through gestures.

“The contact was made after years of safe distance observations and sending gifts,” said an official on the condition of anonymity.

Earlier, a team of scientists protected by security forces stepped on the island in 1967 but could not establish friendly contact, officials said.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are home to six tribes — Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa, Sentinelese, Nicobarese and Shompen.

There are about 300 Jarawas, 100 Onges and 300 Shompens left. Another tribe called Jangil or Rutland Jarawa extincted around 1920 due to epidemic.

IANS