The Andaman police are trying to piece together what happened when 26-year-old missionary John Allen Chau attempted to contact the Sentinelese tribe, in the aftermath of his death. Believed to have been killed on November 17, 2018, John was on his sixth trip to the Andaman, and had illegally made his way into reserved territory of the North Sentinel Island, where the tribe lives. A crucial piece of evidence for the police in this case is John’s journal.
John was allegedly facilitated by local fishermen, who he bribed to take him to into the waters near the North Sentinel Island in the guise of fishing activity, and Alexander, a local friend. Before John died, however, he instructed the fishermen to take his 13-page journal to Alexander.
TNM has accessed a few pages of these journal entries, which reveal how John Chau planned his illegal mission – all the while knowing what he was doing was against the law – and how he stayed in a ‘Safe House’ in order to escape detection. The last days of John Chau were spent with him utterly, almost blindly convinced about his mission to preach Christianity to the Sentinelese, even at the cost of his own life.
And a lot of his writing is offensive, racist, and downright condescending.
The night before his expedition
In an entry dated November 14, 2018, that John wrote from a ‘safe house’ in Port Blair, he recounts meeting with the fishermen who he described as “believers” the previous night. He wrote that the fishermen had agreed to drop him off and won’t be accompanying him. “The meeting went well – I trust, although I am the only English speaker so there is quite a language gap; I am relying on the holy spirit to direct us,” he wrote.
It is in this entry that John revealed his mixed ethnicity – “an American citizen, part Irish, part Native American and part African and part Chinese and South East Asian”; groups that have painful histories of invasion, colonisation and forced ‘civilisation’. "God, I thank you for choosing me before I was even yet formed in my mother’s womb to be your messenger, of your good news to the people North Sentinel Island," he wrote. He then expressed hope that the Sentinelese tribe will accept Jesus and Christianity with an open heart.
The plan, John revealed, was to leave that night and arrive at 4 am after which he would make “progressive contact with fish.. gift, over four days (sic)”. “His play will succeed I pray, my will nor my plan be done but only his god, pleasing and will. Forever you, Jesus, we to be praised,” he wrote, before signing off with his name and the phrase “Soli Deo Gloria”, Latin for glory to god alone.
Avoiding the patrol boats
In a journal entry from 5.30 am on November 15, John wrote that they rendezvoused successfully the night before and were currently on the boat, waiting to make contact. He also talked about how they evaded the Indian Coast Guard and the Navy’s patrolling boats:
“Left last night around 2000 and arrived around 2230 or so but as we went north along the eastern shore, we saw boat lights in distance along the north shore and turned around. Headed south along the eastern shore and evaded them, went along the southern shore and up along the western shore. All along the way, our boat was highlighted by bioluminescent planktons – and as fish jumped nearby, we could see their line darting mermaids shimmering along. The Milky Way was above and god himself was shielding us from the coast guard and navy patrols.”
The party then entered a cove as the sun began to rise in the east and decided to wait for the Sentinelese to come out of the thick forest which is on their island.
The next entry describes John’s less than amiable first contact with the Sentinelese. The tribe, which is known to react with suspicion and violence towards outsiders who attempt to make contact or enter their territory, did just that when met with John.
“One blocked (unarmed) [me] while other (country knife) waded along the coast, then little third with bow and arrow came down the middle and I figured that this was it,” he wrote. John then attempted to “preach” to them and in a rather strange admission said, “[…] and disembarked my kayak to show them that I too have two legs.”
Incidentally, there have been several attempts to make contact with the Sentinelese in the past decade, so they are not entirely new to the outside world, but merely choose to reject contact with them.
John then describes one Sentinelese man as “well built with a round face one fly on right face cheek and yellowish pigment in circles on his cheeks and about 5ft 5”.”
John narrated that he gave them the “gift-type” items after which he said that they took his kayak. “And the little kid shot me with an arrow – directly into my Bible which I was holding in front of my chest. I grabbed the arrow shaft as it broke in my bible […] and felt its arrow head. It was metal, thin, but very sharp,” John wrote.
“I stumbled back and recall yelling at the kid for shooting me – now as I look back at it, my Bible cover looks like bark – like tree bark, so maybe he was just curious but yikes, it sure gave me a fright,” he continued.
John also attempted to speak with them, shouting, “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you!” However, the Sentinelese, clearly not taking well to him, strung their arrows in their bows, and John panicked. His attempts to throw fish – that he has brought as gifts – at them, also did not bear positive response.
John then waded back into the water, and swam almost a mile towards the fishermen’s boat – the same fishermen who had helped John come into the forbidden North Sentinel Island territory.
The last entry
Before making his final entry into his journal on November 16, John reportedly expressed that he did not want to die and that he might be more useful to god alive.
On November 16, before his second attempt and final visit to the Sentinelese, John penned a letter to his parents, asking them not to be angry at the Sentinelese or god if he were to die. He advised them to live their life in “obedience” and that he would see them again when they “passed through the veil.”
“This is not a pointless thing – the eternal lives of this tribe are at hand and I can't wait to see them around the throne of god worshiping in their own language as Revelations 7:9-10 states,” he wrote. “I love you all and I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ,” he said, before signing off ‘Soli Deo Gloria’, followed by his name.
Incidentally, John was also convinced that the North Sentinel Island was a demonic stronghold, which probably fuelled his 'mission'. "Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?” he reportedly wrote in one of his last diary entries, as provided to Washington Post by his mother.