Efforts To Recover American's Body On Remote Island Called 'Incredibly Dangerous'
NEW DELHI - A rights group that works to protect tribal people has urged Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover the body of an American who was killed by inhabitants of an island where outsiders are effectively forbidden by Indian law. The group, Survival International, said the islanders could be exposed to deadly diseases if rescuers set foot on North Sentinel Island, where John Allen Chau was killed earlier this month.
You can see a press release from Oral Roberts University, where Chau was an alumnus, at the bottom of this story.
Chau traveled to the island by paying fishermen to smuggle him. The fishermen told authorities they saw the Sentinelese bury Chau's body on the beach.
Related Story: Anthropologist Weighs In On ORU Student's Death
Notes that Chau left behind said he wanted to bring Christianity to the islanders. Indian officials have traveled repeatedly in recent days near the remote island but have not set foot on it.
Scholars believe the Sentinelese are descendants of Africans who migrated to the area about 50,000 years ago and survive on the small, forested island by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. Almost nothing is known of their lives, except that they attack outsiders with spears or bows and arrows.
Survival International's director, Stephen Corry, said in a statement Monday that any efforts to recover the body would be "incredibly dangerous" for both Indian officials and the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if any outside diseases are introduced. "The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real, and increases with every such contact. Such efforts in similar cases in the past have ended with the Sentinelese attempting to defend their island by force," Corry said.
He said the body of Chau "should be left alone as should be the Sentinelese." Indian anthropologist T N Pandit, who has made contact with the Sentinelese, expressed a similar view to BBC News.
Pandit said they shouldn't be labeled as hostile. "Sentinelese are a peace-loving people. They don't seek to attack people. They don't visit nearby areas and cause trouble. This is a rare incident," he told the BBC.
There has been no significant contact with the Sentinelese for generations. Anthropologists used to occasionally drop off gifts of coconuts and bananas, but even those visits were stopped years ago.
Pandit said an expedition he was on in 1991 peacefully came into contact with the island's inhabitants. "We jumped out of the boat and stood in neck-deep water, distributing coconuts and other gifts," Pandit said. "But we were not allowed to step onto their island."
The president of the nonprofit International Christian Concern told BBC News this was at least the third time Chau tried to meet with the tribe. "He was determined to reach these people with the Gospel and was deeply burdened for these guys," Jeff King said. "It was a sacrificial act. He knew it was dangerous."
Corry was critical of India's relaxation of controls over visitors to such islands. "The weakening of the restrictions on visiting the islands must be revoked, and the exclusion zone around the island properly enforced," he said.
He said the islanders should get the chance to determine their own fate. "All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected," he said.
An Indian police official earlier said they do not want to disturb the islanders' existence. "They are a treasure," said Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on the Andaman and Nicobar island groups. "We cannot go and force our way in. We don't want to harm them."
Indian officials said earlier that they were consulting anthropologists to see how they can approach with a friendly gesture. They watched the Sentinelese from a distance in recent days.
On Saturday the tribesmen were armed with spears and bows and arrows, but did not attempt to shoot them at the authorities.
ORU Press Release:
The Oral Roberts University community has been deeply saddened by reports of the tragic death of alumnus John Allen Chau. John was reportedly slain by members of the Sentinelese people, a remote tribe on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
“John left a legacy of servanthood while at ORU,” said ORU President Dr. William M. Wilson. “Our alumni have been reaching to the uttermost bounds of the earth for over 50 years bringing hope and healing to millions. While we grieve John’s death, we rejoice in knowing the hope of Christ’s resurrection and believe that John’s sacrifice reflects the love of Christ for all humanity.”
John went on two ORU Mission trips to Cape Town, South Africa, first as a team member in 2012, and then as the Team Leader in 2014. John also worked on the ORU Missions & Outreach staff in 2013-2014 as an Outreach Coordinator, working with local outreach contacts that partner with ORU every week throughout the year.
“He was passionate about sharing Christ’s love with all people groups,” said Andrea Hyre, Department Head of ORU’s Missions and Outreach Program. “We consider it an honor to know John Chau, his heart, and the passion he had to see God’s Kingdom advanced through his life and obedience."
Bobby Parks, who was ORU's Missions Director at the time John attended, wrote an extended tribute on social media. "There was never a time that I didn't enjoy being around this incredible, yet humble man. He was always the most thoughtful, loving, compassionate, and prepared servant leader I ever served Jesus and others with. I loved John Chau not only like a friend, but a brother… He lived to serve and sacrifice for others, yet those of us who were privileged to be close enough to know his quirks and humor and tender personality will always know him not just as a famous missionary, but one of the best and most selfless human beings there ever was. John knew the worth and value of Jesus and His
Gospel of love for all. So much so that he wanted to share that love with the world, no matter what it cost him."
While at ORU, John, who graduated cum laude in 2014 with a B.S. in Exercise Science, was actively involved with both the men's soccer team and in local outreach, clearly demonstrating his heart for helping people. He organized numerous charity soccer events all over the world, including a soccer outreach to Tulsa’s Burmese refugees, soccer clinics in Northern Iraq for Syrian refugee children and local Kurdish youth, and interning as a soccer coach at Ubuntu Football Academy in South Africa. While in Tulsa, he assisted in developing an after-school program to reach under-privileged youth where he faithfully served.
“John served the men’s soccer program faithfully for his four years as the team manager. However, during that time he was much more than that. He was a great friend, a prayer warrior for the team, and the team’s biggest fan and mentor," said Ryan Bush, ORU's Head Men's Soccer Coach. "John was one of the best examples of servant leadership I’ve seen, and he had a severe conviction to bring the love of Christ to everybody he was around. He made a profound impact on my life in our time here together at ORU, and it does not surprise me John gave up his life for a group of people he never met."
John also left a profound impression upon faculty members at ORU, including Professor of Biology Dr. John Korstad. "I share in the grief felt by John’s family and friends," Korstad said. "I knew John as one of my students and as a friend. He loved life and people because he loved the Lord. His persistent smile and encouraging words were always refreshing. His legacy lives on through all of us who loved him. May we be equally bold in loving others with Christ’s love and compassion."
John’s friends from ORU say from the time John was a freshman at ORU, he had a passion and desire to preach the Gospel and do mission work.
“I remember us discussing his desire to be a missionary in some of the most difficult places in the world,” ORU alumnus Joshua Wagner wrote on social media. “The fire only grew as John targeted truly one of the most unreached people groups on the planet. He counted the Sentinelese people as worthy of the Gospel and willingly gave his life for them.”
Kylie Johnson, who attended ORU with John, says there are no words to describe the impact John had on the world. “In a time when I was lost, broken, and hopeless, he poured into me grace, patience, kindness and courage and taught me what it truly means to lead and live like the Father.”
“After listening, reflecting and discussing this very unique situation with others in the ORU community, I am convinced that John believed God called him to reach the most isolated people groups in the world," said President Wilson. "His heart was bursting with love for them. This overwhelming passion led him outside the normal boundaries and pushed him to do what others could not and would not do. He prepared himself mentally, physically and spiritually for years to pursue this passion. There was no perfect way to do this but I am convinced John did not want to hurt anyone. I am also sure he never dreamed his martyrdom would create a global media storm nor did he want to be famous. He was simply willing to commit his whole life if necessary so these precious people could know the love of Jesus Christ. Our prayers continue for John’s family and friends during this time of loss.”