An American Christian missionary is believed to have been killed by the Sentinelese people of North Sentinel island — among the most remote and isolated peoples anywhere on the planet.
North Sentinel Island, located in the Bay of Bengal and technically falling under the jurisidiction of the Indian government, has been home to an isolated tribe of uncontacted humans for tens of thousands of years, who live today very much as they have throughout the majority of that time. Very little is known about these people, in large part because early attempts at contact were met with immediate violence from the tribespeople. In the years since, the Indian government has banned travel to the island in the Andaman Island chain not only for the safety of the passengers, but over concerns that the isolated population will lack the immunity necessary to survive contact with the modern world.
The as-yet-unidentified American was said to be 27-years-old. He traveled to the island illegally, hiring local fisherman to take him to the remote island with the expressed intent of converting the isolated tribe to Christianity.
“We refuse to call him a tourist. Yes, he came on a tourist visa but he came with a specific purpose to preach on a prohibited island,” Dependra Pathak, Director General of Police of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, said.
He was dropped off near the island in a canoe by local fishermen on November 15th. Later that day, the fishermen saw the American on shore with arrow injuries. The following day, they reported seeing that his canoe had been destroyed. By the 17th, he was dead. The fishermen in custody told officials they saw the tribespeople on shore dragging his body around before they left.
“We have a team out in the waters for reconnaissance and to strategize how to recover his body. The team consists of coastal guards, officials from tribal welfare department, forest department officers and police officials,” Pathak said.
Seven locals have been arrested for their hand in aiding the American in his efforts to reach the banned island.
Formal attempts at making contact with the remote people of North Sentinel Island have been marred with ignorance and violence. In 1880, a British expedition led by Maurice Vidal Portman made landfall on the island where they reported finding a complex network of pathways and a number of abandonded villages. They eventually came upon a family of six Sentinelese people (two elderly adults and four children). They captured the family in hopes of learning more about the island and its people, but the two adults quickly became ill — likely as a result of their exposure to the Europeans. When the adults died, the children were released back to their homes with “gifts” to bring their people.
Although the world has been aware of the Sentinelese people for centuries, the first peaceful contact with the tribe didn’t occur until 1991 when an Indian anthropologist was able to establish basic communication with the tribe. Those contact visits ceased in 1997 however. Indian helicopters that were dispatched to see if the people survived the massive tsunami that hit the region in 2004 were met with spears and arrows from the remaining population.
No one is certain how many Sentinelese people live on the island, with estimates ranging from just a handful to as many as hundreds. An aerial survey of the island conducted in 2001, however, estimated the population to be only around 39.
You can watch drone footage of the island and villages captured by the Indian government in the video below: