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article imageBoa Senior dies at 85, and with her a language and a culture

By R. C. Camphausen     Feb 5, 2010 in World
Boa Senior, an 85-year-old woman and last member of an Andaman tribe believed to be among the oldest human cultures on Earth, has died. And with her the language called Bo, and the culture that spoke this language, has also perished.
It seems that Survival International has been the primary source for various articles now circulating (here, here, and here for example) that try to bring home to us that we should not only be concerned about the extinction of species among flora and fauna, but also with the disappearance of whole cultures, peoples and the languages they speak - or in this case: spoke.
The London-based organisation which campaigns for tribal peoples worldwide, said that Boa Sr. was the very last speaker of Bo, one of 10 languages known among the peoples now simply known as the Great Andamanese.
The Bo and their neighboring tribes are generally thought to have lived in the Andaman Islands, now belonging to India, since about 65,000 years. Originally ten distinct tribes, among which the Bo, the Great Andamanese people were 5,000 strong when the British colonised the Islands in 1858. In the process of colonization, which meant theft of land, import of foreign diseases, chauvinist disdain for a so-called primitive culture, most tribal people were either actively killed or died of disease.
Boa Sr. was the oldest of the surviving generation, and by now the Great Andamanese number just 52 people. Naturally, this is why Survival International's director Stephen Corry said: “Boa's loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands.”
Boa Sr is one of the survivors of the Asian tsunami of December 2004, and she reportedly told visiting linguist Prof. Anvita Abbi that the earthquake generating the tsunami had been known to occur by the tribal elders. Not only that, but those elders knew as well that flight was no option. In Boa Sr's words: “We were all there when the earthquake came. The eldest told us the Earth would part, don't run away or move.”
In other words, the Bo and their neighboring tribes, for example the Jarawa people, belong to such an ancient form of humans that they are, or were, still as sensitive as many of the animals we know of who can sense the coming of disasters and who usually leave the afflicted area. The Bo, and tribal people like them, show us that humans can be equally in tune with nature, truly sensitive and more or less clairvoyant (fore-knowing) - unless, of course, such natural survival instincts are both culturally discouraged as craziness and inhibited by reliance on purely technological aids
It is known that Boa Sr. felt very much alone as the last and only speaker of Bo ... and we can only hope that she now rests in peace in whatever expectation of death, afterlife, or eternal return she may have had. At least, the woman has left a bit of a legacy behind in the form of her recorded songs and statements ... others like her die in a similar fashion yet perhaps often unknown to us ... taking another language into their grave, another culture, another piece to the puzzle of what it means to be human.
More about Andaman islands, Language, Boa, Obituary, Linguistics
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