An anthropologist who visited the remote Indian island where police say a remote tribe killed an American missionary using a bow and arrow formed a kind of relationship with the isolated Sentinelese people between the 1960s and '90s.
T.N. Pandit, now in his 80s, was a part of gift-giving expeditions to the hunter-gatherer tribes of the Andaman Islands decades ago, when the trips were sanctioned by police.
After several trips nearing the island bringing gifts including coconuts, Pandit and the team were able to make close contact with the isolated people. He told The New York Times in a previous interview that encounters weren't always friendly – describing how the tribespeople did show initial hostility, armed with bows and arrows.
But, he told BBC's World Service, his team always backed away when they were threatened by the people he believes are generally "peace-loving."
"I feel very sad for the death of this young man who came all the way from America," Pandit told the BBC about the death of John Allen Chau. "But he made a mistake. He had enough chance to save himself. But he persisted and paid with his life."
On a trip to the island in 1991, Pandit, who wrote about his experiences in a book, was able to make his first close contact with the Sentinelese after the tribespeople peacefully (and unusually) approached his group in the ocean, but he was never allowed on the island. In fact, during one of his seemingly peaceful encounters, he was approached by a tribesperson with a knife who warned him to stay off shore while giving away coconuts.
In years since that encounter, Indian government regulations have forbidden interaction with the Sentinelese, a people that likely have little resistance to diseases and could die from contact with outsiders.
Panet told The Indian Express that authorities wishing to recover Chau's body might have the most luck traveling there in the afternoon or evening when tribesmen usually aren't on the shore. He also said to stop the boat beyond shooting range of arrows and come bringing gifts of coconuts and iron.
The advocacy group Survival International has since warned police that it's in the best interest of the Sentinelese tribespeople and the authorities to "abandon efforts" to recover Chau's body.
On Saturday, police traveled about 437 yards away from the island's shore only to turn back after seeing tribesmen on the beach armed with bows and arrows.
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