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In India, the search for an American allegedly killed by the aborigines was suspended. This was explained by the risk of harming the tribe.

Scientists and anthropologists called for an end to the expeditions to the Sentinelles, as this could destroy isolated people.

Anthropologists present gifts to the people of Centinelle, January 1991. Photo from the personal archive of Triloknat Pandit specialist
Anthropologists present gifts to the people of Centinelle, January 1991. Photo from the personal archive of Triloknat Pandit specialist

On November 27, Indian authorities announced the suspension of an operation to search for and return the body of American missionary John Chau from North Sentinel Island. He traveled to an isolated area in mid-November in order to tell about the teachings of Jesus Christ to a local Sentinelite tribe known for its aggressive behavior. According to eyewitnesses, shortly after the arrival of the tribe killed a stranger and buried him on the beach.

Within seven days after the start of the investigation, the Indian police tried to figure out whether it was possible to return the body of the murdered without harming the natives. However, many anthropologists and scientists spoke out against the expeditions to the island. They point out that an attempt to take away the corpse of one person risks leading to the partial or complete extinction of a unique people.

How did the police act

From the beginning of the search for Chau, on November 21, up to November 27, Indian police made several attempts to find the body of an American. Thanks to the testimony of seven people who helped the missionary to get to the forbidden to visit the island, the police learned the approximate location of the “grave” of the deceased. Boats and helicopters were sent to this zone several times, but the search team did not find any traces of Chau or a place where they could bury him.

During one of these expeditions, the police stopped the boat about 400 meters from the coast and used binoculars to assess the situation on the island. As it turned out, a small group of Sentinelians lined up on the shore, armed with bows and arrows. They did not express aggression, just walked along the coast and looked towards the foreigners. Knowing about the incident of 2006, when the aborigines shot two people fishing from off the coast, the police did not provoke the tribe and returned to the base.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Sentineltsy followed. They armed and patrolled the shore at the place where John was killed. If we got closer, they would attack.[/perfectpullquote]
Dependra Pathak
senior officer of the Andaman Islands police

On November 27, Indian authorities announced the suspension of attempts to recover the body of Chow. The BBC source in the government, who was present at the meeting about the incident, explained the decision to the risk of harm to the Centinelles.

As explained by Pathak, it is likely that the Aborigines will soon independently confirm the suspicions of the police that they have killed Chau. In 2006, the Sentinelles dug the bodies of two killed fishermen from their graves about a week after the incident and tied them to the bamboo on the shore. It is not known what this ritual meant, but he allowed the police to verify the death of men. “If they act according to a similar pattern, then, perhaps, from a distance we will see John’s body, and at least confirm precisely his death,” says Pathak.

What ended contact with sentinelntsami in the past:

  • In 1880, British naval officer Maurice Portman, known for appeasing several tribes on the Andaman Islands, kidnapped an elderly couple and four children from Sentinel Island. Elderly aborigines soon became ill and died, after which Portman sent the children home with “gifts”;
  • In 1967, the anthropologist Triloknath Pandit (Triloknath Pandit) equipped the first friendly expedition to the island, during which experts presented gifts to the Sentinellers. Despite this, the aborigines reacted to them aggressively, making gestures and shouts to indicate that they were not waiting for the guests. It was possible to establish a more or less neutral contact only in 1991;
  • In 1975, the exiled king of Belgium, Leopold III, went with an escort on a tour of the Andaman Islands, the ship’s route was not far from the island of Sentinelles. Noticing the aliens, the aborigines began to shoot from the bows in the direction of the boat. According to those present, the king admired what was happening and said that it was “the best day of his life”;
  • In 1981, a merchant ship flew into reefs off North Sentinel Island. 28 members of the team were forced to wait for help for two weeks: aggressive aborigines regularly gathered around them, but did not attack. Later, the sailors were evacuated by helicopter, and the details of the ship were separated by the Sentinelians. His skeleton is visible on Google Maps;
  • In 2006, the stream carried two fishermen to the coast of the island of Sentinelles, after which the aborigines shot them with bows and buried them. The police sent a helicopter to the scene, but the tribe drove him away with arrows, and then the search for the bodies was stopped.

How the scientific community responded to the situation

“The lesson that gives the death of a missionary? Leave the Sentinelles alone, ”the column entitled Ajay Saini, an anthropologist and Andaman Islands specialist , is entitled . He condemned the statement of John Chow, who in his diary compared the native island of the aborigines with the “Last stronghold of Satan,” and called the aggression of the Sentinelians to strangers natural to the human race.

Representatives of the international organization for the protection of tribal peoples Survival International called on to abandon attempts to return the body of Chow, as this could trigger an epidemic of disease to which the aboriginal organism is not adapted. “The body of Chow should be left alone, like the Sentinelles,” the organization’s appeal says .

Sentineltsi on the shore of his native island. Photo from the archives of Indian anthropologists

American journalist Josh Shahryar (Josh Shahryar) called the actions of the missionary “crime”, which almost started the process of extinction of an entire nation. He also admitted that the risk of infection of the Sentinelians still remains, since the fate of the body of Chau is unknown. “Now there are dozens of similarly ignorant Americans, whose hands itch to repeat his experience for the sake of adventure, religion, or the opportunity to face danger,” Shakhryar quotes his friend’s opinion.

Dead John Chow. As follows from his diary, he knew about the risk of infecting Sentinelles with common diseases from which they did not have immunity, and asked not to take his body in case of death, so as not to risk the lives of the natives. Photos from American instagram
Dead John Chow. As follows from his diary, he knew about the risk of infecting Sentinelles with common diseases from which they did not have immunity, and asked not to take his body in case of death, so as not to risk the lives of the natives. Photos from American instagram

The Indian scientific community also reminded that attempts to return the body of the deceased could lead to an escalation of the conflict with the Sentinelles. The appearance on the island of policemen digging up the body of Chau, probably will cause aggression among the Aborigines. In this case, the police will probably have to open fire, risking to completely or partially destroy the people of the Sentinelians.

Scientists are not sure whether the decaying body of a dead American is a danger to the tribe. Microbiologist Jayaraman Gowrishankar is skeptical aboutthe risk of infection – according to him, if the aborigines have lived on Earth for so long, then most likely their body can cope with most, if not all, diseases.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]If you look at history, a frequently cited example is the Spanish conquest of America, where the indigenous peoples (for example, the Aztecs or the Incas) fell victim to European diseases, because they did not have immunity from them at all. But I do not think that this applies to the Sentinelians.[/perfectpullquote]
Jayaraman Goraishankar

How attempts to establish contact with isolated tribes led to disaster – the experience of Brazil

In August 2014, Brazilian authorities reported on contact with members of an isolated Indian tribe in the Amazon. Residents of local villages have come across aborigines in the past, mostly forcing them to steal from the garden, but this case was different. Representatives of the people were driven not by material goals, but by fear.

With the help of translators, they told about the brutal attacks that are forcing them to leave their native lands. Further investigation revealed that the forests where the tribe lived were occupied by drug dealers. They killed some Aborigines, while others were driven out to arrange their own transit point from Peru in the empty territory.

Such stories are far from uncommon, although sometimes the people of the tribes are not people in the drug business, but poachers or hunters for the values ​​of isolated nations. This trend only makes even more obvious the reason why many tribes stay away from civilizations – they are afraid.

“Heart” of the forests of the Amazon. In the past, various tribes lived on this territory. Reuters Photos

Since colonization, hundreds of nations have died or were enslaved by more powerful civilizations in Europe or America. As Kim Hill, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, says, any people want to be in contact with the world, but the tribes are wary. “There are no groups that prefer global isolation just because they like it,” explains the specialist.

In the 1960-1970s, the Brazilian authorities perceived the Amazon, known for the wealth of various tribes, exclusively as a territory for settlement. During these extensions, hundreds of representatives of unique peoples were killed, and the survivors went deep into the forest and attacked all who approached their home.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]At this stage, the natives are almost impossible to integrate into society – they are too frightened by the superior strength of strangers and a completely different habitat.[/perfectpullquote]

In the 1980s, the Brazilian authorities tried to rectify the situation, trying to build friendly contact with the tribes. Sometimes it led to the fact that the Indians attacked strangers, but far more often isolated Aboriginal people were infected and died. In rare cases, epidemics killed up to 60% of the tribe.

In 1987, after the extinction of representatives of numerous tribes, the head of the Brazilian National Indian Foundation for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples Sydney Possuelo decided that such a strategy of interaction with the natives was unacceptable. Instead, the researcher and human rights activist suggested reducing the number of contacts with the tribes as much as possible and allocating them territory and resources for independent living. Since then, the best alternative has not been invented.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Non-contact peoples do not dwell among us, do not ask for anything from us, they live and die mostly without our knowledge. When we get involved with them, they often share a common fate: “desecration, illness, and death.”[/perfectpullquote]
Sydney Possuelo
researcher and one of the most experienced experts on contactless peoples of Brazil
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