US man killed by tribe after ignoring ban on visiting remote North Sentinel island


An American man who ignored advice to stay away from an island where the indigenous people are protected has been killed by its inhabitants.

The 27-year-old died on North Sentinel island, part of the India-controlled Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.

The islanders are one of the few tribes completely cut off from the rest of the world and are known to fire at outsiders with bows and arrows.

The remote North Sentinel Island
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North Sentinel Island is about 1300km (808 miles) from the Indian mainland

Indian police officials confirmed the death and said seven fishermen who allegedly aided the visit had been arrested.

The man killed has been identified as John Allen Chau.

One of the police officials – speaking anonymously to Reuters – said Mr Chau had hired a fishing dinghy to get close to the island, before changing to a canoe.

The Sentinelese have lived on their island for up to 55,000 years and have no contact with the outside world. Pic: © Survival International
Image:
The Sentinelese have lived on their island for up to 55,000 years and have no contact with the outside world. Pic: © Survival International

Indian media reports said he was on an “adventure trip” and that his body had been found by the fishermen.

But local police officer Vijay Singh told the AP news agency that police were still in the process of recovering the body.

North Sentinel is protected and not open to tourists – who also have to apply for a permit to visit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands if they are foreigners.

The Sentinelese are said to be at risk of death if they have contact with outsiders as they have no immunity to common diseases like flu and measles.

Estimates as to the number of tribespeople who survive vary from 200 to as low as 40.

In the wake of the 2004 tsunami this member of the Sentinelese tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter. Pic: © Indian Coastguard/Survival
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In the wake of the 2004 tsunami this member of the Sentinelese tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter. Pic: © Indian Coastguard/Survival

The US consulate in Chennai, on the Indian mainland, said it was aware of the reports of the American’s death but a spokeswoman declined to comment further for reasons of privacy.

Police officials said a murder case had been registered.

Two Indian fishermen were killed on the island in 2006 when their boat broke loose and drifted onto the shore – but no action was reportedly taken in that case.

North Sentinel Island, home of the Sentinelese, as seen from above. Pic: © Survival
Image:
North Sentinel Island, home of the Sentinelese, as seen from above. Pic: © Survival

Poachers are also known to fish illegally in the waters around the island, catching turtles and diving for lobsters and sea cucumbers.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, which campaigns on behalf of indigenous people, 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.

The Sentinelese enjoy excellent health, unlike those Andamans tribes whose lands have been destroyed. Pic: © Survival International
Image:
The Sentinelese enjoy excellent health, unlike those Andamans tribes whose lands have been destroyed. Pic: © Survival International

“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.

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