Indian authorities are having trouble retrieving the body of an American missionary from a remote island. At one point, Indian police sitting in a boat off the coast of the island had been facing off with members of a tribe on the beach, unable to proceed.
Here's what we know
North Sentinel Island, part of India's Andaman Islands, is home to one of the last uncontacted tribes in the world.
On Nov. 16, John Allen Chau of Vancouver, Washington, convinced local fishermen to ferry him to the island. According to Chau's journal, he had planned to witness to the local inhabitants. One journal entry read: “Lord, is this island Satan's last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”
Not even anthropologists know the language spoken by the Northern Sentinelese. In his journal, Chau wrote of an earlier venture to the island where he had shouted, “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,” at the inhabitants, to no effect.
Whatever his plans for reaching the inhabitants had been, Chau had barely arrived on the island on Nov. 16 when the fishermen who had ferried him there saw him shot by the inhabitants, armed with bows and arrows.
But the retrieval of Chau's body has proven to be difficult. The Indian government has forbidden any contact with the tribe, out of fear both for the tribe's well-being and because of the tribe's historical hostility to outsiders.
What's happening now?
The Indian government is prosecuting seven people for helping Chau reach the island, including six of the fishermen who reportedly ferried him there. These fishermen have been cooperating with police to help determine the exact spot that Chau was killed.
Dependra Pathak, the police chief for that region in India, told Agence France-Presse that he and his team had taken a boat out to a spot within sight of North Sentinel island. They looked through binoculars at the beach and saw men on the beach armed with bows and arrows looking back at them.
"They stared at us and we were looking at them," he told AFP.
Pathak and the other police left the area.
In 2006, two fishermen found their way to the island and were killed by the inhabitants. In that case, the native Sentinelese buried the bodies of the fishermen, only to exhume their bodies a week later. The bodies were then placed on stakes facing the ocean, propped up like “a kind of scarecrow,” according to Pathak.
"We are studying the 2006 case. We are asking anthropologists what they do when they kill an outsider,"Pathak said. "We are trying to understand the group psychology."