Tribespeople armed with bows and arrows killed an American tourist who illegally ventured to their island home, police said Wednesday in India’s Andaman islands where contact with indigenous people is banned to protect their way of life.
John Chau, 27, was surrounded and killed by tribal fighters, who fiercely defend their island paradise on the Andaman Sea, official sources told AFP. Chau paid local fishermen to take him to North Sentinel Island which is out of bounds even to the Indian navy in a bid to protect its reclusive inhabitants who number only about 150.
The Andamans are also home to the 400-strong Jarawa tribe who activists say are threatened by contact from outsiders.
Chau was hit by a hail of arrows as soon as he set foot on the island, an official source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He was attacked by arrows but he continued walking. The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body,” the source said. “They were scared and fled but returned next morning to find his body on the seashore.”
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Outsiders not Welcome
Indian police said a murder case had been registered against “unknown tribesmen” and seven people arrested in connection with the death. “The investigation in this matter is on,” senior police officer Deepak Yadav said in a press release.
Indian media said the fishermen told a preacher in the main town, Port Blair, about the incident and the preacher contacted Chau’s family in the United States. The case has cast a rare spotlight on the indigenous people in the islands deep in the Indian Ocean who live shielded from the outside world to safeguard them from 21st century diseases.
Indian police said a murder case had been registered against “unknown tribesmen” and seven people arrested in connection with the death.
Chau had a tourist visa to enter the Andamans, where access to some restricted zones is given, the official sources said. But it is illegal to go within three miles (five kilometers) of North Sentinel island. Chau had made several trips to other Andaman islands before offering money to fisheremen to take him to North Sentinel, the sources said.
“He tried to reach Sentinel island on November 14 but could not make it. Two days later he went well prepared. He left the dinghy midway and took a canoe by himself to the island,” one of the sources said.
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A spokesperson for the US consulate in Chennai said they were aware of “reports concerning a US citizen in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands”. “The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the US Department of State,” the mission said in a statement to AFP without further comment.
The Andamans are also home to the 400-strong Jarawa tribe who activists say are threatened by contact from outsiders. But tourists have previously bribed local officials in a bid to be able to spend time with them.
Indian media said the fishermen told a preacher in the main town, Port Blair, about the incident and the preacher contacted Chau’s family in the United States.
Tribes such as the Sentinelese, who are believed to number about 150 people, shun all contact with the outside world and have a record of hostility to anyone who tries to get close. In 2006, two Indian fishermen who moored their boat to sleep were killed when the vessel broke loose and drifted onto the shore, according to Survival International, a tribal rights advocacy group.
The Sentinelese hunt and gather in the forest, and fish in the coastal waters. The island was hit by the huge 2004 tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean but not much is known about the impact it had on the reclusive inhabitants.
However after the tsunami one member of the tribe was photographed attempting to fire an arrow at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter. Indian authorities make periodic checks on the tribe from boats anchored at a safe distance from shore.
© Agence France-Presse