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Indian Authorities Hesitant to Retrieve Body of U.S. Christian Missionary

Retrieving the dead body of a young American Christian missionary could disrupt an isolated people.

Indian authorities paused the planned retrieval of an American Christian missionary’s body to avoid disrupting an isolated tribe located on an island in the Indian Ocean.

26-year-old John Allen Chau, an Alabama native, was killed by the Sentinelese, a completely isolated indigenous people who have lived on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal for more than 10,000 years. The Sentinelese are believed to be one of the earliest descendants of the humans who migrated from the African continent hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Based on the victim’s journal entries — as well as eyewitness testimonies from six Indian fishermen who brought Chau near North Sentinel — Chau was a self-described Christian missionary who wanted to convert the Sentinelese people.

After Chau was killed by a member of the Sentinelese tribe, the fishermen were arrested by Indian police for violating a national law against disrupting protected peoples and lands. The fishermen said that Chau’s body was dragged inland by the island’s indigenous inhabitants and likely disappeared somewhere within their territory.

Survival International, a non-profit human rights organization that advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world, urged the Indian government and local authorities who preside over islands in the Bay of Bengal not to recover Chau’s dead body, as the tribe lacks of immunity from modern pathogens like the common cold, flu, and measles viruses.

Many tribes and indigenous peoples still to exist in the globalized world.

Tribes like the Awá in Brazil, the Mashco Piro in Peru, the Ayoreo in Paraguay, and the Yanomami in Venezuela still exist today.

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