Missionary’s death: Who are the Sentinelese people?

A remote tribe from India’s Andaman Islands has made headlines after an American evangelist was killed while visiting their island in an attempt to convert them to Christianity.

Known as the Sentinelese, this “uncontacted” people are protected from the outside world by the Indian government. Laws are in place to prevent anyone coming within 4.8 kilometres – both for the protection of the Sentinelese, who are unlikely to have the genetic immunity to fend off common viruses, and also for the safety of outsiders. Even the Indian navy are forbidden from visiting the island.

The tribe, who are believed to originally come from Africa, has resided on North Sentinel Island for over 55,000 years, existing when the Neanderthal Man was still around. The 2011 Indian census listed their population as 14, including three women, but some believe these figures to be inaccurately low.

A friend revealed to DailyMail.com that 27-year-old John Allen Chau was “committed” to travelling to the remote island, deep in the Indian Ocean, to preach Christianity to the tribesmen and had been planning the trip for at least three years.

He paid local fishermen to help him get to North Sentinel Island, where he arrived to a flurry of arrrows, but kept walking.

The tribe then tied a rope around his neck and dragged his body away, according to the fishermen who helped him get there.

First contact with the Sentinelese was made in 1880 by British naval officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, who captured an elderly man and woman and four children from the island.

While the man and woman died in Port Blair, likely from disease, the children survived and were eventually sent back to North Sentinel Island with gifts, in the hope that village elders would see the British as friendly. However, the islanders didn’t see it that way.

The tribe is known to attack any intruders with flatbows and javelins, which they operate with lethal accuracy. Prior to Chau’s visit, two Indian fishermen were killed after their anchor broke and their boat floated in range of the island.

Pandit also believes the Indian census figures are likely to be wrong and estimates the population as being between 80 to 100.

“In my opinion, we should not be in a great hurry to make contact,” he said. “The Sentinelese are a highly vulnerable population and would disappear in an epidemic.

“The government’s responsibility should be to keep a watch over them in the sense no unauthorised people reach them and exploit them. Otherwise, just leave them alone.”

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