With Boa die tribe & tongue

 Demise of Andaman lady marks end of a society


 Feb. 4: Boa Senior had been lonely the last few years of her life. When she died last week, she was no longer alone — she took her tribe and language with her.

The 85-year-old, who had survived the December 2004 tsunami, was the last member of the Bo tribe and the last speaker of the Bo language, one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages.

With her death, her tribe has become extinct and its language, which linguists have been studying for a long time, is also lost.

A media release issued by Survival International, a group that researches on indigenous people across the world, said Boa was the oldest of the Great Andamanese, who now number just 52. “With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory,” director Stephen Corry said today.

The media release said the Bo were thought to have lived in the Andaman Islands for as long as 65,000 years, making them the descendants of one of the “oldest human cultures on Earth”.

Linguists mourned the loss.

“Her death brings a silent catastrophe to the community which lost a heritage that is equal to identity,” said Narayan Kumar Choudhary, a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Linguistics School of Languages, Literature and Culture Studies, JNU. “The loss of Boa Sr is the loss of the house itself. What remains now is only the ruins.”

Boa died on January 26 as the nation celebrated Republic Day. She had no children. JNU linguistics professor Anvita Abbi, who knew Boa for many years, said the old woman had been very lonely the last few years of her life.

“Since she was the only speaker of (Bo) she was very lonely as she had no one to converse with…. (But) Boa Sr. had a very good sense of humour and her smile and full-throated laughter were infectious,” Abbi told Survival international.

Boa had survived the 2004 tsunami. “We were all there when the earthquake came,” she later told linguists who had interviewed her. “The eldest of us had told us ‘the Earth would part, don’t run away or move’. The elders told us, that’s how we know.”

A social anthropologist in Delhi said Bo was a highly endangered language because of several reasons ranging from external forces like economic, religious, cultural and educational subjugation to internal forces such as a community’s negative attitude towards its own language.

He said the inter-community marriages the Great Andamanese had with Karen (Burmese) and other settlers led to decay in their linguistic and tribal distinctions. The islanders now speak Hindi and some local dialects.

“It is no wonder that language deaths go unnoticed,” said Professor V.S. Sahay, an anthropologist at Allahabad University who worked on Andaman tribals.

Linguistics professor Abbi said Boa felt the neighbouring Jarawa tribe was lucky to live in forests away from the settlers who now occupy much of the Andaman Islands.

The press release issued by Survival International said that originally ten distinct tribes, the Great Andamanese were 5,000 strong when the British colonised the Andaman Islands in 1858. Most were killed or died of diseases brought by the colonisers.

Having failed to “pacify” the tribes through violence, the British tried to “civilise” them by capturing many and keeping them in an “Andaman Home”. Of the 150 children born in the home, none lived beyond the age of two.

The surviving Great Andamanese depend largely on the Indian government for food and shelter, and abuse of alcohol is rife, the release added.

Survival International director Corry said the Great Andamanese were first massacred, then all but wiped out by paternalistic policies which left them ravaged by epidemics of disease, and robbed of their land and independence. “Boa’s loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands.Courtesy:TheTelegraph


 What madhubaganiar feels :

The death of a living language is indeed very pathetic. When speakers of a particular language no longer use it as their language of daily life, or speakers vanish from the scene. The language bound to die and it regards as a dead language.


 Every language has its own unique history, culture style, story. When a language dies, a vast store house of  knowledge associated with the language also dies. Today, a living tribal language “Bo” has died. Tomorrow more tribal languages of India are bound to die. There are hundred of reasons which will kill the living tribal language.  


  At present, the majority of tribal children are receiving education in the language other than their mother tongue. There are no tribal schools in tribal villages to impart education through tribal language. Receiving education through alien language is making havoc in tribal communities. Almost all the educated tribals are shedding their mother tongue for a modern Indian language. The next generation of the educated tribal family are opting other language as their mother tongue or foster language. This process is harming the development of tribal language into a modern and progressive one.  The pace of detaching and migrating from tribal language to a modern day language is so alarming. A lot of groups are working for preserving tribal language for future generation. Even literature has also been created. Magazines are being published. Few schools have been established. Few languages are being taught at University level. Nevertheless, it is feared that within few decades these tribal languages will be heading towards natural death destinations.


 Of late, a new trend is seen in the field of tribal (language to invent its own unique script, which could give the language its own identity. Though, this kind of attempt should always be welcomed as these people are taking the pain to give tribal language a new face and identity. However, I personally, don’t believe that it will preserve the language. For example, I wish to take the name of Kurukh language. Since, I belong to Kurukh or Oraon community and attended Kurukh Conference at Siliguri, therefore, I dare to write few lines in this connection.


 Almost, all the educated Kurukh both know Hindi or other modern Indian language and could read anything written in Devanagri script. Even, Kurukh of Assam, Bengal, and Orissa are also familiar with Devanagari script and can read literature written in the script. They are more likely to easily read and understand Kurukh language if written in Devanagri script. However, learning Tolong Siki is cumbersome. Producing literature in Tolong Siki will attract less number of people than Devanagri. When people are not eager to invest money and time and energy in their mother tongue because of innumerable reason, they are less likely to learn a new script for the love to learn and preserve their loving mother tongue, which is just been replace with a new modern language in their second generation. Today, even, educated rural tribal also tend to speak other language than their own. Therefore, I think tribal language could be preserve and make prosper through known script only, as the pace of alienation of tribal language is more rapid than the preservation and creating literature and infrastructure.


  “Bo” language has died, because, its speaker lonely speaker has died. But, Jharkhandi tribal languages will be dying next because of empathy of its speakers.

Author: madhubaganiar

Madhubaganiar loves to write on social issues especially for downtrodden segment of Indian society.

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