Relatives of a Christian adventurer who was killed on a remote island in the Indian Ocean say they forgive the isolated band of locals whose bow-and-arrow attack proved fatal.
The Sentinelese tribe shot at 26-year-old John Chau, a man from Washington state who was hoping to spread Christianity to the tribe, as Chau landed on North Sentinel Island Saturday with the assistance of local fisherman, NBC news reported.
Chau’s family took to his Instagram account on Wednesday night, writing that words “cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report. He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”
Police are puzzling over how to get Chau’s body back, considering the tribe’s reputation for rejecting — often with violence — entreaties from the outside world, the Associated Press reported.
“We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death,” the family wrote.
Officials in India, where the tribe is legally protected, said people are barred from trying to visit the mysterious Sentinelese on the island, CNN reported. But a friend of Chau’s told CNN that Chau was simply trying to be helpful, and that he’d visited the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago — where North Sentinel Island is located — a few years ago.
“I see him as a martyr,” said John Middleton Ramsey, a 22-year-old friend of Chau’s, according to CNN. “He was someone who died out of love for these people to bring the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Chau approached the island by kayak armed with a Bible, but little else is known about his death, the New York Times reported.
The local fisherman who helped Chau navigate to the island said they watched the Sentinelese drag the adventurer’s body on shore, according to the Times.
“He certainly knew it was off limits,’ said Dependra Pathak, police chief in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, calling Chau’s expedition a “misplaced adventure,” the Times reported.
The fishermen have been charged with culpable homicide, the Times reported.
Chau’s family asked that the fishermen be let go.
“We also ask for the release of those friends he had in the Andaman Islands,” their Instagram post said. “He ventured out on his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions.”
Critics said the situation was entirely avoidable.
“The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected,” said Stephen Corry, director of advocacy group Survival International.
Corry also said Chau put the tribe’s safety at risk.
“Uncontacted tribes must have their lands properly protected,” Corry said. “They’re the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. Whole populations are being wiped out by violence from outsiders who steal their land and resources, and by diseases like the flu and measles to which they have no resistance.”
Chau penned a letter to his parents before he left behind the fishermen and headed to the island, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people,” Chau wrote in the letter, according to the Journal. “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed—rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I’ll see you again.”