Native Village
Youth and Education news
March 1, 2010     Volume 1

Last member of 65,000-year-old tribe dies, taking one of world's earliest languages to the
Condensed by Native Village

Boa Sr., the last native of the Andaman Islands, recently died at age 85. She was the last person fluent in Bo, one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages.

The Great Andamanese are a group of tribes who have lived on the Andaman Islands for 65,000 years. They are among the first descents of early humans who migrated from Africa 70,000 years ago. Other groups went on to colonise Indonesia and Australia.

Boa was born in the Andaman jungle and grew up in traditional society. She learned to gather wild potatoes and hunt for wild pigs, turtles and fish.

In 1970, the Indian Government moved the Great Andamanese tribes to the tiny Strait Island near Port Blair. Boa then lived in a concrete and tin government hut. She lived on state food rations and a tiny government pension.

Boa Sr's husband died, and she had no children. In 2005, the last king of the Bo tribe died, leaving only a handful of elderly members who also died over the next five years.

"She always said she wanted to go back to the place where she was born," Professor Anvita Abbi said.  Abbi is a linguist who can speak a version of the Boa language

"Since she was the only speaker of Bo, she was very lonely as she had no one to converse with," Abbi said. "Boa Sr had a very good sense of humour, and her smile and full throated laughter were infectious. I spent a long time with her in the jungle and shared many moments with her. She was very proud to be the last member of the Bo.""

The Great Andamanese once numbered more than 5,000 and were made up of 10 distinct groups. Each group had their own language. Most Andamanese died after colonizers brought their culture, diseases and alcohol 150 years ago. Today, only 52 Anadamese remain

The only indigenous tribe that is relatively intact is the Sentinelese, who ban any contact with outsiders. They were famously photographed firing arrows at an Indian helicopter in 2004.

Boa often told Abbi how she envied the Jarawa and the Sentinelese tribes for avoiding contact with outsiders. 

"She used to say they were better off in the jungle," said Stephen Corry from Survival International, a group that campaigns for the rights of indigenous people.  "With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory.  Boa’s loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands."

From CNN: Lost Language of the Bo
CNN Video of the last living Andaman speaker sharing her traditional language before she died.

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