Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The death of Bo Sr, her tribe and language

Ancient tribe becomes extinct as last member dies
CNN: The last member of an ancient tribe that has inhabited an Indian island chain for around 65,000 years has died... Boa Sr, who was around 85 years of age, died last week in the Andaman islands, about 750 miles off India's eastern coast, Survival International said in a statement... She was the the last member of one of ten distinct Great Andamanese tribes, the Bo...

'[It is] A very fast erosion of indigenous knowledge base, that we are all helplessly witnessing,' read an obituary in Boa Sr's honor... Project director Anvita Abbi, a professor at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, met with Boa as recenly as last year. 'She was the only member who remembered the old songs... Bo Sr was the only speaker of Bo and had no one to converse with in that language'... Her husband and children had already died...

Survival International estimates there are now just 52 Great Andamanese left. There were believed to be 5,000 of them when the British colonized the archipelago in 1858. Most of those tribal communities were subsequently killed or died of diseases... The British also held the indigenous tribal people captive in what was called an Andaman Home, but none of the 150 children born there survived beyond two years of age.

The Guardian: Bo Sr, who lived through the 2004 tsunami, the Japanese occupation and diseases brought by British settlers, was the last native of the island chain who was fluent in Bo... thought to date back to pre-Neolithic human settlement of south-east Asia...

'Her loss is not just the loss of the Great Andamanese community,... Narayan Choudhary, a linguist of Jawaharlal Nehru University... wrote on his webpage. 'To me, Boa Sr epitomised a totality of humanity in all its hues and with a richness that is not to be found anywhere else.'

The Andaman Islands, in the Bay of Bengal, are governed by India. The indigenous population has steadily collapsed since the island chain was colonised by British settlers in 1858 and used for most of the following 100 years as a penal colony.

Tribes on some islands retained their distinct culture by dwelling deep in the forests and rebuffing would-be colonisers, missionaries and documentary makers with volleys of arrows. But the last vestiges of remoteness ended with the construction of trunk roads from the 1970s.
Image source here.