The Sentinelese, as they are known, described in the press as “the most isolated people in the world,” live on one of the Andaman Islands, Sentinel Island, to be precise, a name bestowed on it by the British when they brought civilization to the island chain in the late 1800s by putting a prison colony there. Most of the inhabitants of the islands succumbed to one of the key charms of colonization, imported diseases.
The Sentinelese, who most assuredly do not call themselves that, having noticed that the main benefits of civilization were sharing their women with horny prison guards and leprosy, withdrew to their island and have ever since then offered violence to anyone who tries to land on its shores. Here, we are not sure that makes them the most isolated people on Earth; there are up to a hundred tribes in South America that will happily shoot poison darts into your hiney if you encroach on their turf. But it’s not a competition between them and the Sentinelese. They can’t compete with each other—they’re isolated.
India, which has sovereignty over the island, forbids outsiders from coming anywhere closer than five miles to its shores, owing to the fact that the locals will make you dead as soon as they spot you. This did not deter Chau, who was determined to bring the Word to the fifteen or so remaining Sentinelese, lest they become completely extinct without any of them having a chance at Heaven. He bribed a poacher to give him a ride to Sentinel Island and went ashore armed only with a Bible.
Possibly Chau viewed this as the X-Games of missionaryhood. Certainly there are tamer forms of proselytizing. The missionaries who show up at our door on Sundays sometimes, to be greeted by welcomes like, “Go the fuck away and take Jesus with you,” and “Don’t you see the little Jew thing on the doorframe?” because one of us can never remember the name of the mezuzah when coping with a hangover, are never actually harmed. We do not keep a bow and arrow by the door to use on them. Chau could have come here a hundred times and still died of old age. Possibly before then he would have converted 15 sinners to Jesus, which would have put the exact same number of people in his Heaven that he was attempting to add when he went to Sentinel Island, despite being repeatedly told, “Stay away from there, brah—dem people will kill you.”
Little is known about the religion Chau died attempting to uproot. If it is like other tribal religions, the Sentinelese believe that the Earth rests on the back of a giant manatee or some such, the rain comes when the manatee sneezes, and one day the Creator got bored enough to shuck about a thousand clams and gop them all together to make the first Sentinelese.
If you think that’s silly, remember Chau was bringing them the story of a God who impregnates a virgin for the express purpose of torturing Himself to death. To be honest, the Sentinelese would probably have killed him if he brought them anything—a Fitbit, an order of cheese toast, the greatest hits of Cardi B—all would have gotten him just as dead. But whatever religion the Sentinelese practice, it’s safe from him. And they plan to keep it to themselves.
Which is as it should be.