Last member of 65,000-year-old
tribe dies, taking one of world's earliest languages to
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
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.
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.
Andamanese died after colonizers brought their culture,
diseases and alcohol 150 years ago. Today, only 52
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."
Lost Language of the Bo
CNN Video of the last living Andaman speaker sharing her
traditional language before she died.