Ancient Tribe Goes Extinct as Last Member Dies
(Feb. 5) – Marking the end of a language and an entire people, the last member of the Bo, an ancient tribe that lived in the Andaman Islands, has died. When Boa Sr, as she was known, died last week, she was believed to be about 85 years old. Her husband had died years beforehand, and Boa, whose name means "land" or "earth" in the Bo language, had no children.
"She was the only person who spoke Bo," Anvita Abbi, a professor of linguistics at India's Jawaharlal National University, told The Times of London. "At times, she felt very isolated and lonely as she had no one to talk to in her own language."
The Bo are believed to have first come to the Andaman Islands – located roughly 850 miles off India's east coast in the Bay of Bengal – 65,000 years ago. Bo was one of at least 10 pre-colonial languages spoken on the islands. According to Survival International, an advocacy group for native peoples throughout the world, the Bo were one of the oldest surviving human cultures on earth.
Of the thousands of Great Andamanese who once inhabited the islands, only 52 people are still alive today. But Boa Sr, who also spoke a local dialect of Hindi as well as the amalgam language called Great Andamanese, was the last of her particular tribe."
After the death of her parents, Boa was the last Bo speaker for 30 to 40 years," Abbi told the BBC. The following footage, courtesy of CNN, was recorded over the last few years of Boa's life by Abbi and represents the some of the last recorded utterances and song in Bo.
The Bos' Downfall
In 1858, when the British decided to colonize the Andaman Islands and use them as a penal colony, they estimated that 5,000 Great Andamanese lived there. "At first, the British didn't notice any difference between the tribes," said Sophie Grig, senior campaigner at Survival International.But in 1879, a British officer named M.V. Portman was appointed officer in charge of the Andamanese, and after years of attempting to acclimate them to life as British subjects, Portman wrote "A Manual of the Andamanese Languages," which distinguished the differences among tribal languages. Portman's own obituary, which appeared in The Times on Feb. 22, 1935, reads:
In many parts of the islands the natives were still either ferocious enemies or at best half-tamed; and his work consisted in making contact with them and very gradually bringing them to recognize the value of British rule.
But colonization proved ruinous for the tribes of the Andamans, including the Bo, with large numbers decimated by measles and syphilis brought to the islands by foreigners. Many of those who were left gravitated to alcohol, another import to the islands, as a way of seeking solace.
"When people are dispossessed from their land and their way of life, they often turn to alcohol," Grig said. "It's not surprising, and it was very much true in the case of the Bo."
In 1970 the Indian government began relocating the Bo to a settlement of concrete row houses on Strait Island. Boa Sr was moved in 1978, and Abbi said she often said that she missed her old life in the jungle.
"What's important is that we learn from this lesson and do everything we can to protect the remaining tribes like the Jarawa and the Sentinelese, who are still there and remain threatened," Grig said.
Now kept in a protective quarantine by the Indian government, the Sentinelese received worldwide attention in 2004, when they were filmed running out of the jungle firing arrows at passing helicopters shortly after the Asian tsunami killed thousands on the Andaman and Nicobar island chains.
Abbi argues that preventing the extinction of other Andamanese languages is crucial if we hope to expand our understanding of how language in the region evolved over time.
"It is generally believed that all Andamanese languages might be the last representatives of those languages which go back to pre-Neolithic times," Abbi told the BBC.
But the death of a language also has other implications.
"A language contains the memories and experiences, everything that explains and encapsulates a way of life," Grig said. "It's sad for the entire world."
We the people of the present day world, owe an apology to the ancient tribes and civilizations, the greedy colonial masters did not care about the life of other humans, of course, sadly each one of us living today is connected to some of those (not all) bigoted colonialists by being fellow continentals, fellowship in faith, or being the beneficiaries of their products.
On Friday, December 11, 2009, I walked into the Melbourne Museum of indigenous people, and at one point I froze when I overheard speakers play this recording, “the colonial masters killed the native people less ceremoniously than they would kill the stray dogs". The picture on the wall depicted falling and bleeding natives and on the left, and on the right were men with their guns aiming at them. They did not respect life of others and coined derogatory terms to describe the native traditions. Those Colonial brutes from our past reincarnate themselves now and go around the world disparaging other traditions. The arrogance that we are superior has to be consistently jolted and humility needs to evolve among each one of us. None of us is superior to others, neither our material things nor our religions ideals or superior to any. We need to refresh our understanding that religions cultivate humility and not arrogance.
The Memnosyne Foundation on the other hand has taken initiatives to work with the indigenous peoples to preserve their culture and heritage. I applaud MaryAnn Thompson-Frenk, the co-founder of the organization for taking such an initiative through the Center for Indigenous Cultures, and Center for Health and Medicine. I visited the Center for the Mayan People in Mexico that Memnosyne Foundation has undertaken to build to give hope to the Maya people. A conference is coming up on indigenous people in Dallas in collaboration with the University of North Texas in Denton Texas.
The World Muslim Congress and the Foundation for Pluralism, with the support from Center for Spiritual living in Dallas organized the III annual reflections on Holocaust and Genocides and included representative events of the world including the Genocides of the indigenous people of America. Together, we learned a few simple things that you and I can do to prevent such tragedies.It is was a purposeful event to learn, acknowledge and reflect upon the terrible things that we humans have inflicted upon each other, you will be aghast when you read the report coming up on 15th of this month in the Journal of Pluralism.
Peggy Larney, a native American shared the story of the genocides (she called it Holocaust) of the native Americans, and their story has similarities; decimating them through deceases and other ills of the society. This is the first time we have discussed the plight of the native people in a public forum along with other Genocides. Her report and video will be a part of the Journal of Pluralism coming up soon.
With the partnership from several organizations, we are looking to organize a full day conference on Holocaust and Genocides onWednesday, January 26, 2011, to reflect on every possible genocide, massacre and atrocity. It is time we remembered every one's pain and take the steps to collectively prevent this in the future, unless we understand and honor others pain, our pain remains incomplete.
WHILE YOU ARE HERE, PLEASE HELP SAVE ANOTHER NATIVE TRADITION
The bullies in one of the Indonesian regions is pushing the natives to adopt the anglican and Muslim names, please do your duty, the least you can do is sign the petition. http://gopetition.com/online/33814.html
The Mayans in Belize and Amazon cannot speak their own language and at places they cannot pray in their own temples... this is happening today.
Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer, speaker, optimist and an activist of Pluralism, Interfaith, Co-existence, Peace, Islam and India. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His work is reflected at three websites and 22 Blogs listed at http://www.mikeghouse.net/