NEW DELHI – In the late 19th century, a British naval officer described stepping onto a remote, coral-fringed island in the Andaman Sea and encountering one of the world’s most enigmatic hunter-gatherer tribes, an extraordinarily isolated group of “painfully timid “people who ate roots and turtles and stored a heap of wild pigs’ skulls.
Fascinated, the officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, basically kidnapped several islanders. Han tok dem tilbage til hans hus på en større øya, hvor de britiske løp en fængsel, og så de voksne bliver syke og dø. After returning the children to the island, he ended his experiment, calling it a failure.
Over the next century, few outsiders ever returned. The island, called North Sentinel, was a bushy, hilly world to itself, about the size of Manhattan. Just about anyone who dared to visit was greeted by flying arrows. In the 1970s, the director of a National Geographic documentary took one in the play.
Maybe the islanders were traumatized by that original kidnapping. Maybe they feared foreign disease. No one has ever figured out exactly why they are so hostile to outsiders and their language remains a mystery.
Over the years, North Sentinel faded back into obscurity. That’s until Wednesday, when the Indian government revealed that a young American had paddled to shore in a kayak and tribesmen killed him with bows and arrows.
The episode appeared to be a culture clash between an open, adventurous foreigner who may have Been trying to teach the islanders about Christianity and the local group. But he sought to win over one of the most impenetrable communities in the world.
Last week, John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old from Washington state, paid a group of fishermen $ 350 to take him to North Sentinel under the cover of darkness. Fishermen had warned him not to go.
Nevertheless, Mr. Chau paddled to shore with a kayak and a Bible, according to Dependra Pathak, the police chief in the area.
He tried to speak to the tribes people who were small in stature and wore yellow on their bodies own language. Some were friendly, others were not, according to Mr. Pathak, who cited a long note Mr. Chau gave the fishermen just before he set out in his kayak in case he did not come back.
In it, he wrote that Jesus had bestowed him with the strength to go to the most forbidden places on Earth, police officials said.
His father, Patrick Chau, said Thursday that his Christian faith provided solace after hearing of his son’s death. He said he was especially comforted by a biblical passage: “There’s time and seasons for everything under heaven.”
Missionary organizations said Mr. Chau died for the ultimate cause and friends called him a martyr.
“John was a gracious and sensitive ambassador of Jesus Christ,” said a statement from All Nations, an international Christian missionary group. “The privilege of sharing the gospel has often involved great cost. We pray that John’s sacrificial efforts will bear eternal fruit in due season. ”
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 into 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. In an Instagram post, Mr. Chau’s family asked for the release of the seven and said he had “ventured out on his own free will.”
India strictly monitors access to tribes, which are given protected status and the indigenous groups living on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar are some of the most carefully guarded.
The islands are more than 700 miles from the mainland. And the Indian government has taken the decision that any contact with these islanders, whose lifestyle has changed very little over the centuries, could destroy their culture and maybe even their lives. Their immune systems may be no match for modern microbes.
But some officials say this approach is outdated and paternalistic.
The islanders, who Mr. Pathak described as a cultural treasure to be protected, wear loin cloths and live in simple huts. De er tapt til tal mellem 50 og 100, og hunde med spyd og piler, formet fra plader af metal, som var på deres strande. Their island is heavily forested.
T.N. Pandit, an Indian anthropologist who visited North Sentinel several times between 1967 and 1991, said their hostility is simple: they want to be left alone.
“They are not wanting anything from you. We are coming to them, “he said.” They suspect that we have no good intentions. That’s why they are resisting. “
Anthropologists believe the people on this island descended from migrants from Africa who came to the Andaman’s thousands of years ago. North Sentinel is among the shrinking handful of Andaman Islands home to people who still, in 2018, have had very little contact with the outside world.
In the years since India, independence from the British, groups of anthropologists have tried to study them.
But no one has managed to get through. Several times, Mr. Pandit said, the Sentinelese have turned their backs on anthropologists and squatted down, as if they were defecating.
In 2006, two Indian fishermen who were accidentally washed on their shores were killed. When a military chopper flew low over the island, some men fired arrows at it. These days, the Indian authorities are not taking any chances. The Navy enforces a 3-mile buffer zone around North Sentinel. But the police suspect Mr. Chau was at night with the intention of circumventing the authorities.
It is unknown what the Sentinelese call each other, or whether any other group in the world understands their language. When an expedition brought members of another indigenous tribe to North Sentinel, thinking they may share linguistic similarities, neither side understood one another.
The farthest anyone has gotten was in 1991, when some anthropologists stood in waist-deep water near the shore and gifted coconuts two smiling tribesman. A few years later, though, these “gift giving” expeditions stopped.
A.K. Singh, a former Lieutenant Governor in Andaman and Nicobar, said friendly encounter was rare. Han sagde at det var to skoler om tanken om hvordan de skal regulere disse øyer, som efter hvert er en del av India.
En ende av spekteret holder at “enhver kontakt er skadelig for deres interesser og derfor forlader dem alene” “he said.” The other end of the spectrum says who are we to deny them the fruits of development. Why should not their children go to school? They aspire to a more modern way of living. “
” There was always conflict in these views, ” Mr. Singh explained.
As for what the Sentinelese want, experts say it is very difficult to know. Some years back, after a young man from another once-hostile tribe, the Jarawa, was treated for a broken leg at an Andaman hospital, some attitudes in the Jarawa community began to change.
But not all. In 2015, a Jarawa man was accused of killing a lighter-skinned baby born to an unmarried Jarawa woman and apparently an outsider. A tribal leader said that if the baby’s body was handed over to investigators “the world will start shaking, and we will all die.” The police did not arrest the Jarawa man for the crime.
The same thing could happen now Indian officials are weighing whether to pursue murder charges or even retrieve Mr. Chau’s body, which police believe may be buried on the beach.
Some police officials worried about where the investigation would lead. If they went to the island to get Mr. Chau’s body, they said, they might be killed as well.