Wednesday, February 10, 2010




A Tribe is Wiped-Out!!!

The last member of a unique aboriginal tribe has died on the Andaman Islands

Boa Sr, who died last week aged around 85, was the last speaker of ‘Bo’, one of the ten Great Andamanese languages. The Bo are thought to have lived in the Andaman Islands for as much as 65,000 years, making them the descendants of one of the oldest human cultures on Earth.

Boa Sr was the oldest of the Great Andamanese, who now number just 52. Originally ten distinct tribes, the Great Andamanese were 5,000 strong when the British colonized the Andaman Islands in 1858. Most were killed or died of diseases brought by the colonizers.

Having failed to ‘pacify’ the tribes through violence, the British tried to ‘civilize’ them by capturing many of them 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 government for food and shelter, and abuse of alcohol is rife.

Boa Sr survived the Asian tsunami of 26, December 2004, and told linguists, “We were all there when the earthquake came. The eldest told us ‘the Earth would part, don’t run away or move’. The elders told us, that’s how we know.

Linguist Prof. Anvita Abbi, who knew Boa Sr for many years, said in an interview to the Hindu, “Since she was the only speaker of ‘Bo’, she was very lonely as she had no one to converse with… Boa Sr had a very good sense of humor and her smile and full throated laughter were infectious.

You cannot imagine the pain and anguish that I spend each day in being a mute witness to the loss of a remarkable culture and unique language.”

Boa Sr told Abbi she felt the neighboring Jarawa tribe, who have not been decimated, were lucky to live in their forest away from the settlers who now occupy much of the Islands.

Stephen Corry, Director of ‘Survival International’, an organization that supports tribes worldwide, said, “The Great Andamanese were first massacred and then all but wiped out by paternalistic policies which left them ravaged by epidemics of diseases, and robbed of their land and independence.

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.”

One of the world's oldest dialects, which trace its origins to tens of thousands of years ago, has become extinct after the last person to speak it died on a remote Indian island.

She died last week in Port Blair, the capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Great Andamanese had the biggest population of all the island tribes until the early 20th century.

As I’ve written in my earlier posts, too, the cluster of more than 572 islands, of which only about three dozen are inhabited, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to six tribes of Mongoloid and African origin, who have lived here for thousands of years.

The current home of the Great Andamanese is Strait Island, a small island in the Middle Andaman Region.

It indeed is very distressing to see that such rich heritage has been lost and we could not preserve it. We have not just lost a person in Boa, but also many unknown ancient facts and hidden secrets of environment which we will never be able to know, now. I hope I’m wrong.

Indigenous people the world over have received a raw deal at the hands of the colonizers. The death of languages in the Andamans is a huge setback for the common human heritage. Languages do not only help one to communicate but are also are a loaded repository of knowledge. A great deal can be learnt from the fast vanishing languages.

Haplessly, preservation of languages also is not a priority in the governmental policies apart from the scores of other such grossly neglected issues. It is unfortunate that we are brazenly failing in our efforts to conserve these unique languages.

Its indeed a very gloomy day when a language dies because with that a unique culture, society and value systems also die. The menace is very real and due to happen to the languages in the mainland India too. All our languages are in danger of dying out if the onslaught of English is not reversed.

It can be lucidly deciphered that in the cities all over India, the Indian languages are already dying amongst the English educated families. Most of these families speak a very pidgin variety of the language with English words predominating. The younger generation is getting further out of touch with the 'mother tongue'. When the mother herself cannot speak that language, what happens to the 'Mother Tongue'! The generations to come would get further aloof from their mother tongue.

If you look around, the entire public space is dominated by English. Indian languages are restricted now to just being 'spoken'. None of the so called elite write or read their mother tongue. Since they are the role models for the others lower down the ladder, this trend will only go burgeoning. This is the common state of affairs even in the rural areas and mofussil towns in the country.

My rueful guess is that in 50 years from now, all Indian Languages will be near extinction unless something far-reaching is done to reverse this trend, on a war-footing. Is anyone listening…?

Stats & figures courtesy:


  1. Indeed its sad, and it only happens when man assumes the role of lord and tries to overlords both his ilk and nature...

  2. I am numbed by this painful fact. Our mainstream media who highlights trivial issues and "star"ry issues never mentioned this collasal loss. Very sad ! Language is like an umplical chord that connects us with our ancient culture. When we snap it, we loose many generations of thoughts, minds and knowledge gained.

    - Lakshmi Rajan (Mr.R)

  3. P.S > Can you activate name/url in commenting option. It will make it easier for people like me. :)

  4. Dear Shri, It was not doing any sort of injustice to you. I will describe the real story behind it. After publishing our comment linking article, some email came to us showing that this way of commenting created much link spamming to their blogs. Also they request us to develop a new tool that a blog owner could Edit a published comment( you know, blogger didn't give that facility). We were trying since last two weeks developing such a tool, even we were not replying or not concenterating on replying comments. Only our preloaded, scheduled posts came online as usual. Lets come back to point, on our way of developing such a tool, we did some experiments, on our blogs and unfortunately some quality comments were deleted /edited and changed..some of them we managed to get it back, but some we couldn't. One of them is yours and we are highly regreting for such an incident happened. Well, as you can see in your next comment, we didnt make any changes and everything as usual. And we are very happy to answer your question. Hopes that you are happy in our answers.Kindly forgive us for such an act.

  5. It is very sad condition that, media or even any persons, organisations ( other than you) fight for their existence. Many struggling to prevent animals and plant species to prevent from extinction, what about human beings? nobody wants them? Nice eye opening article, thanks for sharing

  6. Marathi ppl will soon follow the same fate.... ha ha ha........

  7. It is a pity that such a thing has happened and we have very little to go back to.
    I think,media today is on a ride and likes to pick up issues to suite themselves.
    Look at as to what is happening in ,Maharshtra over language

  8. @Reetha, it is true, not many Indian media gave importance to her death or the extinction of Bo Language it is really saddening. I wrote a blog about this on mine atleast that made me feel better a bit.

  9. @Tarun Mitra You're absolutely right, dear Tarun! It has been foretold in our ancient scriptures that in 'Kaliyuga', the perilous attitude of "Aham Bramhasmi" would be the harbinger of the final extermination. And we can already sense the onslaught...

    @Lakshmi Rajan (Mr.R) Very true! Media today is pathetically paralyzed in the hands of rampant commercialization.

    I'm so sorry, Mr.R, as I've had terrible experiences in the past and hence, have vowed not to activate the name/url option in the commenting option ever again, unless there's an option in Blogger to activate it without activating the 'anonymous' option.

    But, you can very well add your name & URL using html tags. Kindly, cooperate, my dear friend! Loved to see you, here. Thanks very much! :)

    @Reetha Thank God! You finally broke your engmatic silence, dear Reetha! :) I'm much relieved, now, that you've cared to communicate and explain. I always believe in strengthening relations for a lifetime. Hope, you'd prove a long-term, trustworthy pal. Thanks for all the appreciation and concern! :)

    @BK Chowla, Very true, Mr. Chowla! Media is brazenly biased, which is crystal clear by the way they've been behaving vis-à-vis the latest SRK - Sena controversy. They ravenously gorge upon popular controversies and humbug, instead of concentrating on significant news in a bid to increase their TRPs etc. Today's media have lost its face...

    @Moulee Great to hear about your post on the hapless incident! Why didn't you submit it in Indivine? I would love to visit your blog and read it... Thank you for blogging about the crucial issue! :)


    "hi Shrinath! It is startling to read that an entire tribe, its language and culture
    was washed off the face of the Earth without due media coverage and efforts to conserve. I sincerely hope that somehow 'BO' lives on...

    I tried posting a comment on your blog but despite repeated efforts, it always returned, "Sorry,your request can't be processed". Anyways,I'd try again after sometime... also browsed through your
    other posts and loved your concern for environment!

    Keep up the good work! Thanks for sharing!

    Abhishek Joshi
    aka Calvy/Desparado

    Dog with the blog!
    Requiem for a dream

  11. @Abhishek Joshi Thanks for dropping by my blog & for your kind mail carrying the comment.
    It's normally no issue while posting comments in the blog; must've been some temporary bug, though.

    Anyways, thanks a lot for the kind appreciation and sensitive response to the post and the hapless incident. Yes, hope 'Bo', the ancient dialect, the details of which are there with the CNN & BBC, at least, is preserved for as long as possible.

    I've published your comment with your links, too, in my blog. Do stay in touch. Cheers! :)

  12. Thats really sad...any race, any species, any language...anything moving towards extinction is a pity. You are right wen u say about languages esp at this point ppl prefer English to their mother tongue...

    "When a language dies with it the unique culture, society and value system also dies"

    Can't agree more!

    We speak Malayalam at home which is our mother tongue. My daughter, 6yrs old, speaks the lang very well. But many feel since she's born and brought up in Dubai she wouldn't know the tongue. But I feel thats actually a shame... not to the mother tongue is no credit and I've seen ppl who often speak that way. Its something to be ashamed of:(

    Each one should ponder and react to this issue...start from home!

  13. Hi Srinath I did post it on Indivine, but I noticed that I gave the wrong title after posting it and there was no option to change it. Though I didnt write in detail I did post it for my satisfaction and to make myself feel better after seeing the issue was totally ignored by mainstream Indian media. - Link to the particular post.

  14. Hi, Your blog is nice and informative. Will keep looking for updates. My wife and I had been to Andaman last year. It's a lovely place. That was the first time we learnt about various tribes that exist over there.

    It is really sad that a TRIBE is about to be extinct....

  15. i remember one of my friends saying that there was a project passed by Indian Guv proposed by a JNU, Delhi Faculty to save the tribe, culture and the language of this tribe.....

    well this does prove, they didn't succeed

  16. @deepazartz Absolutely agree with your valid sentiments and the genuinely positive idea that the rectification of this shameful situation should start from home. Thanks for your kind words of appreciation, dear Deepa! :)

    @Sonia Sunny Thomas Thanks for your kind solidarity, dear Sonia! See you back for more! :)

    @Moulee "posted it for my satisfaction and to make myself feel better...: - This makes your job done as a blogger, dear Moulee, and now when your readers learn about it from your blog-post, your obligation as an aware and prudent citizen is also complete. Thanks for it all, dear Moulee! See you back soon for more. Cheers! :)

    @Kcalpesh That's great, dear Kalpesh! Please, do help spread the word about the issues relating to these vulnerable islands by recommending the blog to as many people as possible. You may also join our Fan page on Facebook & contribute with your thoughts and ideas. It would be very helpful for the causes that I'm taking up. Thanks a lot for your kind admiration! :)

  17. @hitesh rawat Your friend told you rightly, dear Hitesh, about the project. Prof Anvita Abbi, Centre for Linguistics, JNU; New Delhi, about whom I've mentioned in the post, has been carrying on with the the project which is related to linguistic research & documentation about the 'Great Andamanese' languages/ dialects only; not the other tribes of A & N Islands.

    Unfortunately, it's not a wide-ranging initiative about saving the tribes & their cultures, and is confined to documentation rather than action. Hence, not much can be expected out of it...

  18. It is a shame to see anything go for good.

  19. hope i didn't had to read this....hope you were writing about the enlightening culture and language of that third world....which is a part of India but don't think they were treated as one......pure negligence from Government.......

  20. Its very touching and sad to here!!
    Dont hear much about Adamanese tribes in news bulletins/ journals..the piece of info was really awakening, but sad ofcourse!

  21. though it is very important to preserve and protect the Indian languages, it has become quite a necessity that one is proficient in English to put food on the table.
    The lost tribe and the language is indeed sad and the role of the coloniser in its extinction is very appalling...when we talk of development, I wonder if things such as lang and culture are ever and fame are the only benchmarks...shameful!

  22. One wonders when all this fake progress will end and real progress begin-that is, respect for nature, diversity and all living things.

  23. @Mike Golch, @hitesh rawat, @Viyoma R, @Nalini Hebbar and @nothing profound Thanks a ton for your fervently supportive comments, indeed!!! Hope, there's soon a much-needed dawn of wisdom on the part of the authorities/ doers and things take a prudent and humane turn for good towards the welfare of these utterly significant causes.

    Until then, let's keep trying to contribute in our own feasible manner towards generating more awareness about the same among the masses.

  24. This is terrific piece of writing. so much to know from all these. Its really sad to know about the loss of vintage culture. Never ever thought of the same. I have never ever been to Andaman but it really feels pity to see the plight of these people. It high time that something is done for the welfare and growth of this people so that this vintage culture and language remains preserved for many more years to come.

  25. @ASWANI Absolutely! That's exactly the burning need of the hour vis-a-vis the very survival of these historic aborigins of the Andamans in peril. Let's see what follows through from the end of the authorities in this regard.

    Thanks a lot, dear Ashwani, for the humane observation on the subject and sharing your philanthropic thoughts & admiration. Cheers!

  26. One more people and language have died...

    <a href="”>Protaras Cyprus</a>

  27. Thank you for sharing the most important and less known facts about tribe and their language.
    I think as a mark of respect to them, we must continue speaking our mother language, or English will eat away everything.
    Congratulations and best wishes.
    Dr Bharat Desai, Bilimora INDIA

  28. It is very sad to here the news that the Tribal people have been treated as animal all over the world
    Work From Home India

  29. Thanks for the info Shrinath Sir!! :) Never knew such tribes in Andaman even existed!!! It is really saddening!!!

  30. Really love your blog! Your new follower :)

  31. Sir,

    I read few more articles on the same in Geo magazine and Nat geo magazine. I just hope the good doctor was able to salvage something out of the grand old lady.