Time to reflect after killing of missionary

  • John Chau wanted to convert a remote tribe to Christianity and paid with his life; the adventurous or those with similar thoughts would be wise to think twice
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 7:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 10:20pm

The idea that there are tribes who live in isolation and want nothing to do with the outside world is unfathomable to some people. That was certainly so to American adventurer and evangelical missionary John Chau, who saw a necessary challenge in converting to Christianity the tribespeople of the remote Indian island of North Sentinel in the Bay of Bengal.

Regrettably, and sadly for the young man’s family, he was killed trying to attain his goals, having ignored laws about trespassing on protected land and accounts of the hostility of the inhabitants to outsiders. But he also failed to understand a basic tenet of any society, no matter at what stage of development it is perceived to be at; privacy, culture and beliefs have to be respected.

People eager to tick off another item on a bucket list may not easily grasp that concept. Evangelicals who believe what they have to give is a necessity that will enrich the lives of others also ignore such matters.

For Chau, 26, whose social media postings pointed to wonderment that a populace as isolated could exist in the 21st century, a clash of civilisations was inevitable. Armed with gifts of a pair of scissors, safety pins and a plastic football, he believed that what he had to bring would improve the lives of people about which even anthropologists know little.

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There is good reason the tribe is a mystery; it lives a primordial existence and has been isolated for so long that its people do not have immunity to modern-day diseases. Contact with outsiders in the past has resulted in illness and death, inevitably leading to a warlike countenance to strangers. Experts believe there is no more cut off group in the world and consequently, nothing is known of its language or beliefs and even the population size is uncertain.

Retrieving Chau’s body is difficult for police, who may well be risking their lives. Indian law says murder has been committed, but it also states that the society on North Sentinel is so precious that outsiders are forbidden.

Common sense says his body should remain where it is – and that those with an overly adventurous spirit or a desire to preach to the unwilling should first question their motives.