American killed by tribe on Indian island knew he was putting himself in danger

John Allen Chau left behind notes that make clear he knew he might be killed during his visit to North Sentinel Island.

John Allen Chau left behind notes he'd written in the days before his death

American John Allen Chau, right, was killed last week by tribespeople on the remote Indian island of North Sentinel. Notes Chau kept during his journey that were verified by local police appear to show he knew the risks of approaching the isolated islanders. (John Chau/Instagram)

As he paddled his kayak toward a remote Indian island — a tiny patch of land off-limits to tourists and populated by tribespeople cut off from the outside world for thousands of years — a young American believed God was helping him dodge the authorities.

"God sheltered me and camouflaged me against the coast guard and the navy," John Allen Chau wrote before tribespeople eventually killed him last week on North Sentinel Island. Indian ships monitor the waters around the island, trying to ensure outsiders do not go near the Sentinelese, who have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone.

When a young boy tried to hit him with an arrow on his first day on the island, Chau swam back to the fishing boat he'd arranged to wait for him offshore. The arrow, he wrote, hit a Bible he was carrying.

"Why did a little kid have to shoot me today?" he wrote in his notes, which he left with the fishermen before swimming back the next morning. "His high-pitched voice still lingers in my head."

Police say Chau knew that the Sentinelese resisted all contact by outsiders, firing arrows and spears at passing helicopters and killing fishermen who drift onto their shore. His notes, which were reported Thursday in Indian newspapers and confirmed by police, make clear he knew he might be killed.

"I don't want to die," wrote Chau, who appeared to want to bring Christianity to the islanders. "Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue? No I don't think so."

No easy recovery mission

Indian authorities have been trying to figure out a way to recover Chau's body after he was killed last week by islanders, who apparently shot him with arrows and then buried his body on the beach.

Even officials don't travel to North Sentinel, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago.

The only contacts, occasional "gift-giving" visits in which bananas and coconuts were passed by small teams of officials and scholars who remained in the surf, were years ago.

Police are consulting anthropologists, tribal welfare experts and scholars to figure out a way to recover the body, said Dependera Pathak, the director-general of police on India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where North Sentinel is located.

Chau paid fishermen last week to take him near North Sentinel, using the kayak to paddle to shore and bringing gifts including a football and some fish.

'A foolish adventure'

Scholars know almost nothing about the island, from how many people live there to what language they speak.

The Andamans once had other similar groups, long-ago migrants from Africa and Southeast Asia who settled in the island chain, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past century as a result of disease, intermarriage and migration.

P.C. Joshi, an anthropology professor at Delhi University who has studied the islands, called Chau's visit "a foolish adventure" because the tribespeople's protracted isolation means they lack many basic immunities to disease.

"A simple thing like flu can kill them," Joshi said.

7 people arrested

It's not clear what happened to Chau when he swam back to the island the next morning. But on the morning of the following day, the fishermen watched from the boat as tribesmen dragged Chau's body along the beach and buried his remains.

Seven people have been arrested for helping Chau, including five fishermen, a friend of Chau's and a local tourist guide, police said.

Authorities said Chau arrived in the area on Oct. 16 and stayed on another island while he prepared to travel to North Sentinel. It was not his first time in the region: he had visited the Andaman islands in 2015 and 2016.

North Sentinel Island, in India's southeastern Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is populated by a tribe known to be hostile to outsiders. (Gautam Singh/Associated Press)

With help from the friend, Chau paid fishermen $325 to take him there, Pathak said.

After the fishermen realized Chau had been killed, they left for Port Blair, the capital of the island chain, where they broke the news to Chau's friend, who notified his family, Pathak said.

Police surveyed the island by air Tuesday, and a team of police and forest department officials used a coast guard boat to travel there Wednesday. It was not clear if they have returned since then.

Chau, whose friends described him as a fervent Christian, attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. Before that he had lived in southwestern Washington state, where he attended Vancouver Christian High School.