US man killed in Andamans wanted to ‘blend’ with tribals, stay on their island
American citizen John Allen Chau stripped down to black underpants in an attempt to blend with the Sentinelese tribe as one of their own when he went to the prohibited island for the second and last time on November 17, according to the deposition of the three fisherman who allegedly helped him sneak into the restricted territory.
Chau, 27, was feared killed in North Sentinel Island, home to between 40 and 200 Sentinelese, the last known uncontacted tribe in the world.
Officers familiar with the investigation said that the three fishermen, who have been arrested and are being interrogated by the Andaman police, said that Chau took a bag on the night of November 16 and hid it somewhere on the island. The bag contained his passport, clothes, belongings, first-aid kit, multi-vitamins and other essential items he brought from the US. This was perceptibly so that he could access the items without the Sentinelese knowing about them after he made contact with them the following morning.
The fishermen told the police that Chau believed he would gain the trust of the Sentinelese by dressing like them, and would in time show the items to the islanders. The fishermen said he wanted to stay in the island for “several months”. Police said that Chau told the fishermen that he had seen a video of the tribals curiously touching the clothes of officials from the only time a government team landed on the shores in the mid-1960s.
“We do not know what has happened to the packet Chau hid on the island,” said a senior police officer who asked not to be named.
“Maybe the Sentinelese found it and destroyed it. It is possible that the packet is still there. Chau feared he would be shot again and also kept items such as forceps, a safety pin, and medicine to stop bleeding and to help blood clot,” the officer added.
The three fishermen also told the police that the Sentinelese after shooting at Chau on November 16 (the arrow hit Chau’s Bible when he went to the island the first time) destroyed his Kayak, because of which he had to swim around 300m-400m to reach the boat where the fishermen were waiting.
In notes that Chau left behind on the boat on November 17 before going back to the island, he wrote that he had to swim over 300m back to the boat at night. “…I am scared, I don’t want to die. Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else take my place to continue and preach god’s message,” the note in the diary read.
The police team which has been conducting a recce of the prohibited island from the water returned on Monday afternoon and reported that a group of Sentinelese were hiding in the trees and keeping an eye on the police. The tribals, they said, seemed to have their own “police set-up” to keep an eye on outsiders.
Until Monday, the Andaman police, along with the Coast Guard, have done one aerial survey above the island and three trips near the island to try and figure out a way to retrieve Chau’s body without disturbing the Sentinelese.
Andaman Police chief Dependra Pathak confirmed the development. “Initially they were hiding and did not come to the beach. They are now on guard and have been spotted in groups watching the police teams,” he said.
Pathak said police are regularly holding meetings with anthropologists and experts to find a way of communicating with the Sentinelese.
“Though we have the statements of the three fishermen, we are recreating the scene of events to be crystal clear about how Chau landed on the beach. It is a challenging case, but we will make all attempts and work round the clock to retrieve Chau’s body,” he said.