In his final journal entries, American evangelist John Allen Chau wrote of the sense of fear settling in before he embarked on what would be his last attempt to contact one of the world’s most isolated tribes.
“I‘m scared,” he wrote in a diary provided to The Washington Post by his mother. “Watching the sunset and it’s beautiful — crying a bit . . . wondering if it will be the last sunset I see.”
The 27-year-old missionary had repeatedly attempted illegal crossings to the Manhattan-sized North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar by hiring local fishermen in an effort to spread Christianity to the Sentinelese. On his last visit, he was shot by a teenager with an arrow that pierced his waterproof Bible.
“Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?” wrote Chau of the tribe believed to include between 50 and 500 people whose ancestors have inhabited the island for the last 55,000 to 60,000 years. Genetic testing suggests the Sentinelese are likely the direct descendants of the first people settled in Southeast Asia during the early Paleolithic.
The Post writes that Chau’s diary suggests he was a man fixated on bringing Christianity to the tribe – a mission he knew was illegal under Indian Law both for the protection of the Sentinelese, who would likely die from exposure to modern day diseases, and for outsiders who may be attacked and killed. Chau had visited the island four times before and was awed by its beauty. He hired nighttime fishing boats to avoid detection, and wrote of seeing bioluminescent plankton and fish jumping through the water like “darting mermaids.”
“God Himself was hiding us from the Coast Guard and many patrols,” he wrote, of his illegal exploits adding that he had tried to engage with the people by offering gifts and singing “worship songs,” reporting their language consisted of “lofts of high-pitched sounds.” Before returning to the island for the last time, Chau reportedly left 13 pages written in pen and pencil with the fishermen who brought him to the island even after expressing doubts over his mission.
“I think I could be more useful alive . . . but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens,” he wrote, asking God to forgive “any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially if they succeed.”
The fishermen took Chau to within close distance of the island so that he could canoe the rest of the way by himself. Shortly after setting foot, the missionary was shot dead by people wielding bows and arrows. The morning after, the fishermen saw his body being dragged and buried in the sand. Officials in the capital city of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands are working to assess whether it’s possible to recover the body of Chau, whose family asks that the tribe not be prosecuted and instead be left alone. The fishermen who transported him have reportedly been arrested.
[H/T: The Washington Post]