NEW DELHI – John Allen Chau had dreamed of returning to the Andaman Islands.
Mr. Chau, an American thought to be in his 20s, was fulfilling that dream last week when he set off by kayak for a remote island inhabited by a tribe whose members have killed outsiders for simply stepping on their shore.
Fishermen warned him not to go. Few outsiders had ever been there. And Indian government regulations clearly prohibited any interaction with people on the island called North Sentinel.
But Mr. Chau pushed ahead in his kayak, which he had packed with a Bible. After that, it’s a bit of a mystery what happened.
On Wednesday, the Indian authorities said that Mr. Chau had been shot with bows and arrows by tribesmen when he got on shore and that his body was still on the island. Fishermen who helped take Mr. Chau to North Sentinel told the police that they had seen tribesmen pulling his body on the beach.
It was a “misplaced adventure,” said Dependra Pathak, the police chief in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. “He certainly knew it was off limits.”
Mr. Pathak said Mr. Chau, believed to be 26 or 27 and from Washington State, may have been trying to convert the islanders to Christianity. Just before he left in his kayak, Mr. Chau gave the fishermen a long note. In it, police officials said, he had written that Jesus had bestowed him with the strength to go to the most forbidden places on Earth.
The Andaman and nearby Nicobar Islands are beautiful palm-fringed specks ringed by coral in the Indian Ocean. The government controls access very carefully; of the more than 500 islands, many areas are off limits.
On Nov. 14, Mr. Chau hired a fishing boat in Port Blair, the main city in the Andamans, to take him to North Sentinel. He waited until darkness to set off, police officials said, so he would not be detected by the authorities.
T. N. Pandit, an anthropologist who visited North Sentinel several times between 1967 and 1991, said the Sentinel people – who officially number around 50 and who hunted with spears and arrows, fashioned from scraps of metal that wash on their shores – were more hostile to outsiders than other indigenous communities living in the Andaman.
Once, when Mr. Pandit’s expedition offered a pig to the Sentinelese, two members of the tribe walked to the edge of the beach, “speared it” and buried it in the sand.
During another encounter, Mr. Pandit was separated from his colleagues and left alone in the water. A young tribesman on the beach pulled out a knife and “made a sign as if he was carving out my body.”
“He threatened; I understood, “Mr. Pandit said. “Contact was different with the Sentinelese,” he added, noting that the Jarawa, another tribe, “invited us to come ashore and sing songs.”
Being left alone was very important for the Sentinelese, said Stephen Corry , the director of Survival International, a group that protects the rights of indigenous tribal peoples around the world.
“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen,” Mr. Corry said in a statement, adding that the Indian government must protect the tribe from further invaders.
Gift-giving expeditions to the Sentinelese stopped in 1996. The Indian Navy now enforces a buffer zone to keep people away . In 2006, the Sentinelese killed two fisherman who had accidentally drifted on shore.
According to the fishermen who helped Mr. Chau, they motored for several hours from Port Blair to North Sentinel. Mr. Chau waited until the next morning, at daybreak, to try to get ashore.
He put his kayak in the water less than half a mile out and paddled toward the island.
The fishermen said that tribesmen had shot arrows at him and that he had retreated. Han har tilsynelatende forsøgt flere steder at komme til øya i løpet av de neste to dagene, sier politiet, som tilbyr gaver som en liten fotballkule, fiskelinje og scissors. But on the morning of Nov. 17, the fishermen said they saw the islanders with his body.
The seven people who helped Mr. Chau reach the island has been arrested and charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder and with violating rules protecting aboriginal tribes.
Another case has been registered against “unknown persons” for killing Mr. Chau. Men i fortiden har myndighederne sagt at det er praktisk talt umulig å forfølge medlemmer av de beskyttede tribes, fordi de ikke er i nærheten av det indre lands regjering.
I et blogpost fra flere years ago, Mr. Chau said he had coached soccer, worked for AmeriCorps and that he was “an explorer at heart.” The Indian police said he had visited the Andamans at least three times.
When asked what was the top of his must-do list , Mr. Chau had written on the blog: “Going back to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India is on the top – there’s so much to see and do there!”