.WASHINGTON: John Allen Chau, an American missionary traveling abroad, is dead. Most like the victim of the Sentinelese. The remarkable circumstances surrounding his demise is a recipe combining elements of a 19th century Sherlock Holmes who-done-it with a good helping of modern-day identity politics.
The game’s afoot
In the Arthur Conan Doyle story “The Sign of the Four,” Dr. Watson is horrified to discover small footprints at a grisly murder scene.
“Holmes,” whispers the shocked doctor, “A child has done the horrid thing.”
But when Sherlock Holmes returns to his Baker Street study, having gathered a few more clues, he dazzles his faithful companion with a celebrated display of deductive reasoning. He reads from a geographical volume pulled from his library:
“They are a fierce, morose, and intractable people… They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small, fierce eyes, and distorted features. Their feet and hands, however, are remarkably small. So intractable and fierce are they that all the efforts of the British official have failed to win them over in any degree. They have always been a terror to shipwrecked crews, braining the survivors with their stone-headed clubs, or shooting them with their poisoned arrows.”
The killer, you see, is a ferocious Sentinelese tribesman of North Sentinel Island, one of the Andaman Island atoll’s 572 islands, situated in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar.
It once served as Britain’s Devil’s Island.
An American tourist meets the ancient past
130 years after the publication of Doyle’s story, the brutality of the Andaman Islanders has moved beyond fiction and into the headlines. According to news reports, American tourist John Allen Chau, a Christian missionary, became the latest victim of the Sentinelese.
A murderous protected class
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are technically under the jurisdiction of India. And the Indian government has declared North Sentinel Island off limits to all outsiders and grants its inhabitants special legal status.
Under India’s constitution, the Sentinelese people are a “Scheduled Caste,” officially recognized as oppressed victims of British imperial rule. And a wronged “untouchable” among Hindu society.
Genetic researchers say native Andaman islanders have been isolated from the rest of the world for at least 40,000 years.
A taste for blood
Back in 2006, two Indian fishermen were illegally harvesting mud crabs off North Sentinel Island. Celebrating a successfull harvest, they chose to celebrate with a few stiff drinks. Inebriated, the pair drifted off to sleep. Unfortunately, the boat’s anchor came loose and the small craft drifted ashore.
The fishermen were met with a volley of arrows.
According to the London Daily Telegraph:
“After the fishermen’s families raised the alarm, the Indian coastguard tried to recover the bodies using a helicopter but was met by the customary hail of arrows… But the downdraught from its rotors exposed the two fishermen buried in shallow graves and not roasted and eaten, as local rumor suggested.”
The police chief of Port Blair, the Andaman capital, told the Telegraph his investigation into the murders would have to wait.
“Right now, there will be casualties on both sides. The tribesmen are out in large numbers. We shall let things cool down and once these tribals move to the island’s other end we will sneak in and bring back the bodies.”
A few years earlier, Indian census-takers put the number of Sentinelese tribesmen at around 39, but admitted to conducting the headcount from a very safe distance.
Since the murders, the Indian government has imposed a 3-mile protective zone around the island.
No cultural appropriation here
It’s said the latest victim of Sentinelese aggression was determined to convert the primitives to Christianity. But it is also likely he wanted to see one of the world’s last, unspoiled, pristine, back-to-nature, unappropriated cultures. One no doubt considered worthy of emulation by today’s Gaia-worshiping environmental Luddites.
A government-recognized “protected” class, whose legal status allows these children of nature to shoot arrows at visitors and bludgeon shipwreck survivors.
Did arrows alone kill American John Allen Chau? Or was he a victim of identity politics in the age of political correctness?
Top Images: Google Earth image of Andaman Islands.
Inset of Andaman tribesmen from Sky Vision documentary “First Out of Africa” screen capture.