Leave Them Alone


On the 17th of last month, American missionary John Allen Chau instructed a fisherman he had paid to take him to the North Sentinel Island to leave him there.  Later on the fisherman observed Chau’s body being dragged along by the inhabitants of the island and the following day his body was seen on the shore.

It is illegal to to travel within five nautical miles of the island thanks to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Act of 1956.  The Indian navy patrols these waters to ensure that the Sentinelese people are not put in danger. John Allen Chau believed he was acting in God’s name and went to preach Christianity to them. The sheer arrogance of this individual to think that laws don’t apply to him and that he should be entitled to do this is shocking in itself and unfortunately resulted in his predictable death.

Since the story broke, I’ve seen tweets calling for the Sentinelese people “to face justice”- not just for this latest tragedy but also for the deaths of two fishermen in 2006 who strayed into the exclusion zone and were killed. Initially I saw a few left-wing accounts express fury, but I expected that – the Left cannot bear to see anybody not “enlightened”(they must be desperate to get in there and provide the natives with diversity training). What is more worrying is that I see right-wingers now start to express this same wish. I would suggest that white men expecting natives to kowtow to their beliefs and rule of law may be something they’d want to avoid.  Nevertheless, I’ve seen arguments that have run along the lines of “why are these people allowed to get away with murder, it’s internationally accepted that this is wrong.”  Quite frankly, the arrogance of this partly explains why Chau felt he could go over and “tame the natives”.

People seem genuinely unable to grasp the idea that there are small groups of humans on this planet that do not want to embrace other cultures – the modern world.

The Sentinelese people do not interact with the international community, they have no interest – this has been displayed repeatedly over the last decade or so. They haven’t signed any international treaties, they haven’t subscribed to any protocols or treaties regarding anything. To them Death is clearly an acceptable punishment for any tresspassers on the island and – considering in the past they have warned strangers off before becoming violent – they will have felt this was the only choice left open to them. We know nothing of their laws, so how can we possibly impose our own?

Let’s assume for a minute somebody actually went ahead and tried to arrest someone on the island.  The police force couldn’t appeal for a warrant with any ambassador or Government. Who would they be asking for, at what address? One of the major factors in leaving these people alone is that they have no immune system to diseases, how would we prevent the arresting officers from infecting the entire tribe?  Should someone be infected, how would we treat them?  How many would we need to treat?  Would we be sure the treatment would benefit them?  Not to mention the stress of getting them to take an injection – passing on medication instructions will be impossible at first. Then once we have ascertained who was responsible, exactly how will they go about getting witness statements together?

Once in custody how would they be interviewed?  The Sentinelese language is unintelligible – even their neighbours the Önge and Jarawas can’t communicate with them. Once you’ve established a basic dialogue, you’ll have to start all over again to explain the legal process, explain their rights, explain the consequences of any verdict the trial may reach and then try to establish whether they actually understand what is happening to them. We are not dealing with a group of Hippies or Rajneesh who have shunned modern society in search of a better life.  These people have been effectively frozen in time and live, for all intents and purposes, in a different world and time – as far as they are concerned, they have the better life.

Assuming a guilty verdict is found, how should their punishment be metered out, bearing in mind it’s probably taken decades to get to this point, assuming they haven’t all died from exposure? Should they be imprisoned? Yet another life to learn, more language barriers, more cultural barriers?  They will have to have the appeal process and any early release applications explained to them, how long would this take?  Would they ever understand any of this?

I’m as curious as the next person as to what this tribe of people are like – curiosity in human nature is sound. But we have got to stop this idea that we are superior and enlightened just because we drive the latest BMWs, own the newest smart phone, parade around with rainbow flags and have a million followers on Twitter. These people don’t care, that means nothing to them. Given the damage we “enlightened” people have done to the Earth compared to them, the Sentinelese are a damned sight kinder to our planet.

So, leave them alone, let them live out their lives without any interference – their numbers are dwindling, do we really want to add to that decline?