A US Tourist Was Killed By One Of Earth's Most Isolated Tribes


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


This member of the Sentinelese tribe was photographed firing arrows at a helicopter that was sent to check up on the tribe in the wake of the 2004 tsunami. © Indian Coastguard/Survival

A US tourist was killed by a community of hunter-gatherer people living on an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar.

John Allen Chau, 27, was shot dead by people wielding bows and arrows after illegally traveling to North Sentinel Island in November 2018, according to reports confirmed by authorities to AFP and Reuters.


Setting foot on this island is illegal in order to respect the Sentinelese way of life and protect them from diseases of the industrialized world. However, the man paid fishermen to ferry him closer to the island on November 16, 2018, from where he traveled to the island in his own canoe.

Chau was reportedly a missionary who made the perilous journey to preach Christianity to the Sentinelese people, according to local news website Andaman Sheekha.

"He was attacked by arrows but he continued walking,” said one source, quoted by AFP. "The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body.”

"They were scared and fled but returned next morning to find his body on the seashore."

The Sentinelese stand guard on the beach of North Sentinel Island. © Christian Caron – Creative Commons A-NC-SA via Survival International

Seven of the fisherman who helped him reach the island have been arrested by Indian police as the islands are technically under the Indian union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen,” Stephen Corry, Survival International’s Director, said in a statement. “The Indian authorities should have been enforcing the protection of the Sentinelese and their island for the safety of both the tribe, and outsiders."

“Instead, a few months ago the authorities lifted one of the restrictions that had been protecting the Sentinelese tribe’s island from foreign tourists, which sent exactly the wrong message, and may have contributed to this terrible event."

The Sentinelese are considered some of the most isolated people from modern civilization. They have lived on North Sentinel, a forested island around the size of Manhattan, for around 55,000 years. It is believed the community consists of less than 100 people who live in three small bands.


The Sentinelese people have expressed a wish to remain uncontacted on multiple occasions, with the occasional violent clash. 

Following the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, helicopters were sent to see if any remote island communities required any aid or assistance. While flying over North Sentinel, aid workers photographed a Sentinelese tribesman firing arrows at them to leave.

In January 2006, two fishermen were killed by Sentinelese people after their boat accidentally drifted too close to North Sentinel Island.

“Tribes like the Sentinelese face catastrophe unless their land is protected,” added Corry. “I hope this tragedy acts as a wake-up call to the Indian authorities to avert another disaster and properly protect the lands of both the Sentinelese, and the other Andaman tribes, from further invaders.”


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