American Man Killed by Isolated Tribe on Indian Island

November 21, 2018 Updated: November 21, 2018

NEW DELHI—An American is believed to have been killed by an isolated Indian island tribe known to fire at outsiders with bows and arrows, police said on Nov. 21.

Local media have identified the victim as 27-year-old John Allen Chau, said to have been a Christian missionary.

Police officer Vijay Singh said seven fishermen have been arrested for facilitating the American’s visit to North Sentinel Island, where the killing apparently occurred. Visits to the island are heavily restricted by the government.

“Police said Chau had previously visited North Sentinel island about four or five times with the help of local fishermen,” journalist Subir Bhaumik told the BBC.

“The number of people belonging to the Sentinelese tribe is so low, they don’t even understand how to use money. It’s in fact illegal to have any sort of contact with them,” Bhaumik said.

The Sentinelese people live on the small forested island and are known to resist all contact with outsiders, often attacking anyone who comes near.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a group of islands at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

North Sentinel Island on a map
An American man was reportedly killed while making an unauthorized visit to North Sentinel Island, known for a hostile indigenous population. (Google Maps)

Singh said the man was killed on Nov. 17 and police were in the process of recovering the body. He declined to give any other details, saying he was investigating the case.

Kathleen Hosie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, the capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, said it was aware of reports concerning an American in the islands.

“When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts,” Hosie said. She said she could not comment further due to privacy considerations.

Shiv Viswanathan, a social scientist and a professor at Jindal Global Law School, said North Sentinel Island was a protected area and not open to tourists. “The exact population of the tribe is not known, but it is declining. The government has to protect them,” Viswanathan said.

Poachers are known to fish illegally in the waters around the island, catching turtles and diving for lobsters and sea cucumbers. Tribespeople killed two Indian fishermen in 2006 when their boat broke loose and drifted onto the shore.

By Ashok Sharma

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