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He Lost His Mind, Definitely: John Chau's Friends Recall His Year Long Research On Andaman Tribe

Written By Daamini Sharma | Mumbai | Published:

A 27-year-old John Allen Chau was killed by the endangered Sentinelese tribe after he trespassed on their island in Andaman. The death of American missionary, who broke laws and very well knew the danger of doing so, has sparked international outrage, a heated debate about the protection of tribal communities. His missionary group recalled the preprations Chau undertook before leaving for the Indian island. 

Chau spent years planning and training to travel to remote North Sentinel Island on a mission to convert its residents to Christianity, including learning emergency medicine, and studying linguistics and cultural anthropology.

Read: Madhumala Chattopadhyay: Indian Woman Who Established First Friendly Contact With Sentinelese Tribe

Chau’s friends from the islands are still grieving and mystified by the whole episode.

A friend, Snoeij recalled that Chau seemed intently interested in the North Sentinelese tribe, where tribes lived in stone age protected by a three-mile, exclusion zone imposed by the Indian government. The tribe has long resisted outside human contact.

“He shared a keen interest in researching and knowing more about them,” Snoeij told a foreign publication. “It must have struck a chord.”

“He lost his mind, definitely,” Snoeij said. “But ask any adventurer. You have to lose your mind a little bit, otherwise you don’t do it.”

Another friend, John Middleton Ramsey, recalled that in 2016 Chau stayed with him in Bellingham and that the island in the Andaman Sea was much on his mind. 

“He knew of the dangers of this place,” Ramsey recalled. “He didn’t want any hearts to get broken should something go wrong. He was very much aware of what he was doing. He also knew it wasn’t exactly legal.”

Chau then joined forces with All Nations, a missionary group based in Kansas City, Mo., that sends Christian missionaries to 40 countries. The group provided him training and support, according to Mary Ho, its international executive leader.

“You could see that every decision he has made, every step he has taken since then was driven by his desire to be among the North Sentinelese people,” Ho said. He planned to live there for years and hoped to learn their language.

Read: Conservationists Request Authorities To Call Off Search For John Chau's Mortal Remains In Andaman

Earlier, Conservationists had requested the authorities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to call off the search for Chau's mortal remains. A group of experts including anthropologist and researchers who have been studying the Sentinelese tribe expressed concern that search teams going to the island in south Andaman may escalate the tension.

"The media has reported nervous stand-offs between the teams seeking to land on North Sentinel to get the body and members of the Sentinelese community who clearly find these incursions unwelcome," the team of experts said in a statement. "Continuing with the efforts could well lead to further violence and completely unwarranted loss of life," said the statement whose signatories include anthropologist and authors Pankaj Sekhsaria, Visvajit Pandya, Manish Chandi, Madhusree Mukherjee and Sita Venkateswar.

Indian officials have traveled repeatedly in recent days near the remote island where an American missionary was killed by people who have long resisted the outside world. But they have not set foot onto North Sentinel Island since the incident.

Read: Police Returns 400 Metre From Shore After Spoting Andaman Tribe Armed With Bows And Arrows

Earlier, Indian officers had a long-distance face-off with the tribe in their latest bid to locate the body of 27-year-old John Allen Chau on the remote island of Andaman and Nicobar, police said on Sunday.

The police team, who took a boat just off Indian-owned North Sentinel island on Saturday, spotted men from the Sentinelese tribe on the beach where John Allen Chau was last seen, the region's police chief Dependra Pathak had informed.

Using binoculars, officers -- in a police boat about 400 metres from the shore -- saw the men armed with bows and arrows, the weapons reportedly used by the isolated tribe.

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