A man who visited the island on which an American missionary was recently ‘killed’ by a tribe has spoken out on what life is really like there.
John Allen Chau was reportedly killed by tribespeople on the remote North Sentinel Island for trespassing earlier this month.
The 27-year-old was allegedly hoping to convert the Sentinelese tribe to Christianity when he paid a local fisherman to take him to the island on November 15.
However, he died shortly after he arrived on the island – which is a part of India’s Andaman Islands and one of the most isolated regions in the world – as members of the tribe reportedly shot arrows at him.
And now a man who has reportedly met the tribe on several occasions has revealed what life on North Sentinel Island is really like.
TN Pandit, the first anthropologist to enter the isolated Andaman island in 1967, has expressed shock at the killing.
In an interview with Economic Times, 83-year-old Pandit explained how he visited the island along with police and Naval personnel more than 50 years ago, with the intention of making friends with the tribe.
However, they were not aware of the tribe’s hostility at that time and so had not anticipated the reception they received.
Describing their first visit, Pandit expressed his surprise that the Sentinelese chose to hide instead of welcoming them to their island.
In total, the anthropologist estimated that the group were on the island for approximately one hour, in which time they explored the beach and forest areas.
He remembers seeing an open area with 18 huts, all occupied, with fire and cooked food surrounding the area. He also saw bows, arrows and spears near the huts, which he described as ‘nicely built’ and made from tree branches and leaves.
Instead of the warm welcome Pandit expected, he explained how they took shelter in their surroundings.
On our first visit, the Sentinelese must have seen us, but they did not come out at all. Instead, they hid in forests, possibly observing us. There’s a small beach in the island, and the rest all are forest areas. So, when we walked into the island, they were definitely watching us, but we did not see them…
They hid the moment they saw us. One of us caught a glimpse of one Sentinelese man, but we came back without meeting them or without having any incident.
Subsequently, on the anthropologist’s further excursions to North Sentinel Island in the 1970s and 80s, he and his group never attempted to walk on the island again.
Instead, they stopped their boat on the approach because of the tribe’s resistance, maintaining a safe distance. Pandit described the tribe’s tendancy to confront the group as they approached, making various gestures including showing their back.
The 83-year-old stated that he understood the tribe’s warnings, hence why they never stepped foot on the island again.
However, he did describe how, on several occasions in later years, his group developed a strategy of communicating with the Sentinelese which included giving them gifts.
The tribe accepted gifts of coconuts, iron rods and utensils, which Pandit said they ‘liked a lot’. Despite this, they still wouldn’t allow the group to enter the island, although on one occasion they did take the gifts straight from their hands.
Because of this, the anthropologist states he was surprised when he heard about the killing of John Allen Chau.
He said of the tribe:
They are not hostile people. They warn; they don’t kill people, including outsiders. They don’t raid their neighbours. They only say, ‘leave us alone.’ They make it amply clear that outsiders are not welcome in their habitat. One needs to understand that language.
So, anyone who intrudes into their land must not go beyond what they agree with. They give enough warnings; the outsiders must respect that and return.
The seven fishermen who took Chau to the island have been arrested by local authorities. They have also been charged with his murder, as the tribespeople cannot be charged for the death.
This is because contact with them is strictly prohibited in order to protect their way of life.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).