Woman’s Encounter With Tribe That Killed John Chau Was Completely Different 27 Years Ago

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John Allen Chau/Madhumala Chattopadhyay/Facebook

A woman who encountered the tribe that killed an American missionary last month has said her experience with them was completely different.

John Allen Chau was reportedly killed by tribespeople on the remote North Sentinel Island for trespassing in November.

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 one woman, Dr. Madhumala Chattopadhyay, has opened up about her experiences with the tribe after she met them in 1991.

As reported by Probashi Online, Madhumala, an anthropologist at the time, sailed to North Sentinel Island with a group of others – including a medical officer in case of sickness or injury.

The purpose of their journey was to attempt to make friendly contact with the Sentinelese, although they didn’t expect much due to the failures of previous attempts.

Madhumala described how, as the boat approached the Island, the tribe could be seen hiding behind the trees. Most were men, and four were armed with bows and arrows.

sentinalese tribespeopleIndian Coastguard

The group then decided to take initiative, dropping coconuts into the water to see if the Sentinelese would accept them. And they did; Madhumala recalls how a few of the men waded into the water to collect their gifts.

As reported by Probashi Online:

The team was awestruck; the Sentinelese had accepted a friendly gesture.

Not wanting to ruin the moment, the leader of the group instructed that more coconuts be dropped. This time, the tribe brought a canoe to come and collect the items.

Madhumala described how the group left momentarily to get more coconuts, and when they returned they were welcomed with cries of ‘Nariyali Jaba Jaba,’ which means ‘more and more coconuts’.

Although the anthropologist was not pictured with the Sentinelese tribe, she was accepted by another Andaman tribe, the Jarawas, with whom she is pictured here:

It was at this point the tribe got more confident, with one youth wading up to the boat and touching it with his hands. More men followed his lead.

However, this close contact must have spooked another member of the tribe, because the anthropologist described how one Sentinelese youth who was sitting on the shore got up and aimed his arrow at the boat.

Madhumala states she gestured at him to get some coconuts, refusing to break eye contact as he pointed the arrow towards her. Still, he attempted to fire the arrow but a Sentinelese woman shoved him, meaning the arrow missed and simply fell into the water.

The tribeswoman therefore saved the group from injury, which Madhumala believes is because of her calm presence as a woman, allowing the tribe to let their guard down.

The tension of the situation didn’t stop the group, however, who then jumped into the water to get closer to the tribe. This allowed them to hand over the coconuts in person, making anthropological history.

With regards to the tribespeople, she told Probashi Online:

Never ever in my six years of doing research alone with the tribes of Andamans did any man ever misbehave with me.

The tribes might be primitive in their technological achievements but socially they are far ahead of us.

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Lucy Connolly

Lucy Connolly

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).