The Sentinelese, immigration and general xenophobia

Vinay Pratapa, Lode Writer

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Recently, I read a news report that talked of yet another instance of a good Samaritan who was shot dead trying to make contact with an isolated, xenophobic, violent group of people who have little knowledge of the outside world and strongly protect their rights to the land.

No, I am not talking about the U.S. of A., folks, this is a case of a Christian missionary from the U.S. bribing a group of fishermen to reach the North Sentinel Island, a part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, off the coast of India. His goal was to contact the North Sentinelese tribe, which has a reputation for being extremely hostile towards outsiders, and preach Christianity to them.
They are so hostile that the government of India declared three nautical miles around it to be an exclusion zone, which is basically a restraining order for a geographical region, often to prevent specific activities from occurring in that area. In this case, trespassing and any contact are violently retaliated by the Sentinelese tribe and the government of India recognized their interest to be left alone to protect the tribe. Therefore, it is illegal and dangerous to set foot on this island, as evidenced by a 2006 report of a local fisherman who was killed with bows and arrows when his boat strayed too close.

Apparently, the U.S. missionary, John Chau, was quite aware of the risks in contacting the tribe. He knew it was illegal, he knew it was a suicide mission and still went for it hoping to let these fine people know that Jesus loved them. Apparently, Mr. Chau brought them otherworldly presents like a football and a fish, because naturally, all islanders have the same lifestyle as Tom Hanks from “Cast Away.”

He escaped from the island after a tribal member shot the Bible he was holding, to give him a piece of their mind. He documented his thoughts in his journal and, like a brave spartan, went back to the island, and promptly got shot with so many arrows that he looked like a human porcupine. His dead body was seen dragged onto the beach by the tribe, as witnessed by a couple of fishermen a few hours later. I guess there is no second coming for this Messiah. Levity aside, this evokes an important discussion about the general xenophobia of human nature when their sanctity and their rights are threatened, which is currently very apparent in the political climate of the U.S.

As we all know, Christopher Columbus (not the director of the Harry Potter movies), the “alleged” discoverer of the Americas, like a typical colonist, first set foot on the Caribbean Islands thinking it was India and pillaged and slaughtered the natives until there was nothing left. Oh, we did not know? Well, that’s a story for another time then. Anyway, the concept of colonialism and the insatiable urge to occupy every landmass and spread Christianity despite resistance from the natives seems to be an ingrown itch that every white man seems to have since the 1500s.

As I understand from various pages out of history such as the Indian Independence Movement, the Haitian Revolution, the American Revolutionary War, the United Irishmen rebellion and so on, no one seems to really like being colonized, enslaved and treated like dirt while their resources are plundered. Maurice Vidal Portman, a British Naval Officer, was famous for the pacification of the Andamanese tribes in the 1700s and “did not hesitate to use violence on the tribes” on occasion. No wonder this particular tribe is so hostile to everyone else due to the way they were treated. But this is just a small island of perhaps 15 –400 individuals. When it comes to countries, this is blown out of proportion. Cooperation is necessary for nations to develop. Trading knowledge and resources to better themselves have always been part of a better world, the utopia that every country strives for. But at the cost of their freedom? I don’t think so.

However, an important distinction needs to be made. When it comes to the U.S.A., the “melting pot” of the world, it needs to be said that colonialism is not the same as immigration. “Immigrants are stealing our jobs” is not the same as “The British are coming!”. Being the world’s largest superpower, we cannot afford to be ignorant, xenophobic and hostile like the Sentinelese. We are the center of the armed conflicts around the world, the brewery of death and power. You think America gained all of its power (and hatred) by staying put and putting itself “first”? The hypocrisy of U.S. politics with its “America first” policy and threatening nuclear war with North Korea at the same time is laughable and depressing. As educated as we may be, this hatred for the outsiders and the paranoia that is spreading throughout the U.S. like wildfire would engulf us in no time. At the same time, making foreign policy without having the slightest clue about the outside world is even worse. We cannot remain in the dark. Like the fate of Mr. Chau, there won’t be a second coming unless we wake up.

*Note: This article ran 11/29/2018