Missionary killed in Andaman made notes about Sentinelese people

Although the missionary was not an anthropologist, is notes give some interesting detail about the Sentinelese people

John Allen Chau, the missionary who was killed by the Sentinelese people, kept detail notes about the Sentinelese people that he observed during his brief encounter with them. Chau went to the North Sentinal Island in an attempt to convert the Sentinelese people to Christianity. While some detail of his notes had emerged earlier, now Hindustan Times has published a detailed account of his journals. The note left by Chau contains several details about the lifestyle of the tribal people.

The note titled as “Observations” estimates the number Sentinelese people to be around 250, which is more than previously estimated population. Chau writes in the note that he arrived on the island on November 15. There he met one man who had a white crown made of flowers and appeared to be the tribe’s leader.

About the body language of the tribal man, Chau says that the man “took a leadership stance. … climbed on a rock, and yelled at me”. The note also has details about the language the tribal people speak. Chau writes that they make high pitched sounds such as the letters b, p, l and s. He writes that he tried to speak some words used by the Jarawas, a tribe from South and Middle Andaman, but the Sentinelese didn’t seem to understand them. From the sounds made by the Sentinelese people, Chau guessed that they exchanged a lot of insults.

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Chau also wrote about the topography of the island. He observes that the sand is white but coarse and the seabed leading up to the beach has a very clear bottom but most of the coral is dead. “There is an amazing surf beach at the entrance of the south part of the cove. Saw three perfect sets of 4-6 feet high swells ….,” he writes.

Chau has also written about the houses of the Sentinelese people. He writes that some of the huts housed around 10 Sentinelese each, including juveniles; and some could have had around 50. He saw no elderly people and guessed that they lived separately on another part of the island.

He further notes that the women booed on seeing him and a juvenile, around 10 years old, shot an arrow at him but it hit the waterproof Bible he was carrying, and the arrow didn’t pass beyond page 933. The arrow-tip was metal, but very thin and sharp.

Chau also notes some gestures of the Sentinelese people. “Arms in the air meant unarmed and friendly, pointing with hand/finger meant pointing a location, arrows in bow meant ready to shoot you,” he wrote.

After Chau’s Bible was hit by the arrow, he had come back to the boat of the fishermen who helped him to reach the island. He had to swim the distance as his kayak was captured by the people on the island. On the boat, he wrote his journal and handed them to the fishermen before his making final journey to the island the next day.


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