An American tourist trying to visit a lush, remote island in India has been killed by a tribe completely cut off from the outside world and known to attack outsiders with bows and arrows, police revealed Wednesday.
Indian officials have identified the victim as John Allen Chau, 276
“Adventure awaits. So do leeches,” read the final post on his Instagram account, dated Nov. 2. On his Facebook profile, Chau described himself as a “soccer coach, traveller, and writer.” He often posted images of his worldwide exploits online, such as hikes in Washington state and prior trips to India.
Visitation to North Sentinel Island is heavily restricted by the Indian government and contact with the Sentinelese tribe who lives there is illegal to protect their indigenous way of life and prevent the spread of diseases.
The tribe is amongst the first people to successfully migrate out of Africa and scientists believe they arrived in the region some 60,000 years ago, the BBC reports.
A police source told Reuters that Chau is a preacher who had visited the area in the past and had a strong desire to meet the tribe. The source also claimed Chau expressed interest in preaching to them.
Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands, told the Associated Press that Chau arrived in the region on Oct. 16 and stayed in a hotel while he prepared to visit the prohibited island.
He said Chau organized his visit to the island through a friend who hired seven fishermen for $325 to take him there on a boat, which also towed his kayak.
Chau went ashore in his kayak on Nov. 15 and sent the boat with the fishermen out to sea to avoid detection, Pathak said. He interacted with some of the tribespeople, giving them gifts he had prepared such as a football and fish. But the tribespeople became angry and shot an arrow at him which apparently hit a book he was carrying, Pathak said.
The American's kayak became damaged, so he swam to the fishermen's boat, which was waiting at a prearranged location. There he spent the night and wrote out his experiences on pages of paper which he gave to the fishermen, Pathak said.
In one of the notes handed over, according to the New York Times, Chau wrote about Jesus bestowing him with the strength to visit some of the most forbidden places on Earth.
Chau then set off for the island again the following day. Sources who spoke to AFP though said once he set foot on shore, he was “attacked by arrows but he continued walking.
“The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body,” one source added.
Following Chau's death, the fishermen left for Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they informed Chau's friend, who notified his family, Pathak said.
He said the family got in touch with Indian police and U.S. consular officials.
"It was a case of misdirected adventure," he added.
The body, according to Reuters, has not yet been recovered as of Wednesday, and those who took him to the island are said to have been arrested.
"The investigation in this matter is on," senior police officer Deepak Yadav said, announcing that the seven fishermen have been taken into custody.
It is not the first time someone has been attacked while trying to visit the island.
In 2006, two fishermen whose boat strayed into the waters around the island were killed – and their bodies have never been found, Reuters reports.
An Indian Coast Guard helicopter that had tried to land in the area to find the pair was forced to turn around after coming under fire by arrows, the news agency says.
Two years earlier, an Indian Navy helicopter that flew to the island to check up on its residents in the wake of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami also was met with a greeting of arrows.
"So we knew that they were safe," one of the pilots told the BBC.
The U.S. Consulate in Chennai, in the capital of Tamil Nadu state, said it was aware of reports of Chau’s death but declined to comment further.
The International Christian Concern, a U.S.-based nonprofit that aims to fight persecution against Christians, called the death concerning.
“We here at International Christian Concern are extremely concerned by the reports of an American missionary being murdered in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands," its regional manager, William Stark, said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to both John’s family and friends."
Shiv Viswanathan, a social scientist at the Jindal Global Law School, said the island is a protected area and not open to tourists.
“The exact population of the tribe is not known, but it is declining,” Viswanathan said. “The government has to protect them.”
Survival International, an organization that works for the rights of tribal people, said the most recent killing should prompt Indian authorities to continue to protect the lands of the Sentinelese and other Andaman tribes.
"The British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands decimated the tribes living there, wiping out thousands of tribespeople, and only a fraction of the original population now survives. So the Sentinelese fear of outsiders is very understandable," Stephen Corry, the group's director, said in a statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.