The isolated Indian tribe who reportedly killed a Christian missionary could be in danger of being wiped out completely.
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 allegedly 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 Survival International, campaigners for the rights of tribespeople, the groups that inhabit the cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean are now in danger of further contact with the outside world.
This could easily result in germs, illnesses and diseases being spread that the tribespeople have no immunity against, as well as their land being exploited by outsiders.
Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said:
This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen. The Indian authorities should have been enforcing the protection of the Sentinelese and their island for the safety of both the tribe, and outsiders.
Instead, 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 exactly the wrong message, and may have contributed to this terrible event.
It’s not impossible that the Sentinelese have just been infected by deadly pathogens to which they have no immunity, with the potential to wipe out the entire tribe.
The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected. The British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands decimated the tribes living there, wiping out thousands of tribespeople, and only a fraction of the original population now survive. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable.
Uncontacted tribes must have their lands properly protected. They’re the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. Whole populations are being wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like the flu and measles to which they have no resistance.
Tribes like the Sentinelese face catastrophe unless their land is protected. I hope this tragedy acts as a wake up call to the Indian authorities to avert another disaster and properly protect the lands of both the Sentinelese, and the other Andaman tribes, from further invaders.
There are also a number of holiday companies who offer safaris through the less restricted parts of the Andaman islands. However, these too endanger the tribes which live there by exploiting the island and disturbing its people, slowly encroaching on their territory.
Miriam Ross, also from Survival International, added, as per Forbes:
We continue to emphasise that there should be no further attempts to contact the Sentinelese, urging the administration of the Andaman Islands to adhere to this by putting a stop to poaching around the island, which led to the deaths of two fishermen in 2006.
Any human contact will ultimately lead to tragic consequences on both sides.
As it stands, the future of this isolated region is very uncertain.
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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.