The family of a US missionary, who was reportedly killed by members of an endangered tribe off the coast of India, have said they forgive the people who killed him.
John Allen Chau died shortly after arriving on North Sentinel island – which is part of India’s Andaman islands, one of the most isolated regions in the world – after tribespeople apparently fired arrows at him.
27-year-old Chau had paid local fishermen to take him as close to the island as they could, before he then canoed the rest of the way himself. He had apparently intended on bringing Christianity to the islanders.
However, when Chau arrived on the beach he faced a flurry of arrows from the Sentinelese tribe who live there, according to the fishermen. Law dictates that outsiders are banned from even approaching the small island, to protect its people and their way of life.
According to the BBC, a murder case has been registered against ‘unknown persons’, and seven people, including five fishermen, have been arrested for helping Chau reach the island.
Local authorities have sent a helicopter and a boat to the area, however they have so far been unsuccessful in recovering Chau’s body.
Dependra Pathak, director-general of police on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told AFP News:
We maintained a distance from the island and have not yet been able to spot the body. It may take some more days and… [reconnaissance] of the area.
We have to take care that we must not disturb them or their habitat by any means. It is a highly sensitive zone and it will take some time.
Local police have brought in field experts, anthropologists and tribal welfare officers to help handle the situation.
Posting on John’s Instagram page, his family have now shared a statement about his death, forgiving the people reportedly responsible.
We recently learned from an unconfirmed report that John Allen Chau was reported killed in India while reaching out to members of the Sentinelese Tribe in the Andaman Islands.
Words cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report. He was a beloved son, brother, uncle, and best friend to us. To others he was a Christian Missionary, a wilderness EMT, an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer.
He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people. We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death. We also ask for the release of those friends he had in the Andaman Islands.
He ventured out on his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions.
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, the organisation that Chau was aligned with, said Chau had been planning his visit to the islands for a while, having tried to visit a number of times but being deterred.
As well as making it illegal to approach the island, in 2017 the Indian government also said photographing or making videos of the Andaman tribes would be punishable with imprisonment.
The islands are situated hundreds of kilometres off the coast of India, in the Indian Ocean. Contact with the tribes is illegal in order to protect their way of life. As they are likely to have no immunity to common illnesses, any contact with the outside world could put them at risk.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.