John Allen Chau was a 27-year-old American missionary from Vancouver Washington who dreamed of bringing Jesus to the hostile tribe on North Sentinel Island known as the Sentinelese. In a sense, he did, before dying in a volley of arrows. This is a story about many things, including several that are regular subjects of this blog. Buried in this sad stupid story is a raw example of tension force. If you’ve been following that idea, see if you can find the brief area where it comes into focus here.
Sentinel Island is 700 miles off India’s mainland. It’s illegal to go there because:
A. They attempt to kill anyone who tries and succeed fairly often.
B. They are an uncontacted hunter-gatherer society, a stone-age tribe of humans who know not a goddamn thing about the messy, stressed out human hives buzzing around them. This makes them a rare treasure despite their murderous diplomacy. What’s in it for us? The mere fact of their untouched existence is like a unicorn in a sacred grove. They exist like the long-hidden heart of wild humanity, steadily beating without us. They aren’t chained up to our machine: They have never tasted the poverty or long hours of the shitty, non-essential work they would be assigned on the periphery of our world. They have an unshared language, names, totems, myths and stories buried deep in the secret world of their lives. They laugh at things, they undoubtedly sing. They track the moon and watch the stars. They surely have a name for us and our crazy machines and our snooping ways. And they have a policy toward us: FUCK OFF!
But there’s a much more important reason not to contact them. Officials say the islanders have lived in isolation for nearly 60,000 years and therefore have no immunities to common illnesses such as the flu and measles. Advocacy group Survival International said that by contacting the community, Chau may have passed along pathogens that have the “potential to wipe out the entire tribe” of about 50 to 150 people.
NO IMMUNITY to our diseases. Exposure to our germs could potentially mean literal extinction.
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this,” Chau wrote in his last letter to his parents. “But I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people.”
In other words, if they die, they die. At least they’ll have the option of heaven or hell delivered along with the sadly fatal good news of their redeemer.
Chau had long held the dream of hitching the Sentinelese to the Jesus wagon. There’s a part of that ambition that was obviously well intended and yet I can’t help feeling an arrogance in his desire to personally be the viral agent that cracked open their purity and filled them with Methodism and modesty. Not allowing that God might find them acceptable without his heroic efforts, was pure hubris and hubris can be deadly. Not taking seriously their track record of murder and attempted murder of all strangers was either hubris again or terminal naivety. But not considering the physical danger he posed to them…all of them, to “The Human Beings” as they likely see themselves, makes their murder of this nice young man into justifiable homicide.
He updated his journal in the brief time remaining to him. “I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,’” Chau wrote, adding that a child shot at him with an arrow that missed and pierced his waterproof Bible. A source with access to handwritten notes that Chau gave to the fishermen to pass on to a friend said that Chau described taking scissors, safety pins, and a football as gifts to the tribe.
In his notes, the source said, Chau wrote that some members of the tribe were good to him while others were very aggressive. “I have been so nice to them, why are they so angry and so aggressive?” the source quoted Chau as saying. The source, who asked not to be named, said Chau wrote that he was “doing this to establish the kingdom of Jesus on the island … Do not blame the natives if I am killed.” In an email to Chau’s mother, Lynda Adams-Chau, a fellow missionary wrote that the fishermen who smuggled Chau to the island saw the tribe burying the adventurer on the beach the next day.
Afterward: Here come the stupids
International Christian Concern, a nonprofit that aims to draw attention toward Christians suffering throughout the world, wants the locals to be charged with murder. A spokesperson for the group said: “We here at International Christian Concern are extremely concerned by the reports of an American missionary being murdered in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Our thoughts and prayers go out to both John’s family and friends. A full investigation must be launched into this murder and those responsible must be brought to justice….Police officials have confirmed today that a case of murder has been registered against unknown members of the Sentinelese tribe.” ICC is wrong here about everything in ways reminiscent of the ways John Chau was wrong. He obviously wasn’t killed for being Christian, he was killed because THEY KILL EVERYONE. Fortunately, ICC misunderstands the murder case. The Sentinelese are not seen by India as subject to their (or anyone’s) law. Charges have been brought against the fishermen who delivered this poor idiot to his death.
The video below, despite lame narration and frustrating camera work, gives some good background to the story of the Sentinelese.