RIP Boa Sr, Last Speaker of the Bo Language

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On Friday, Boa Sr, the last surviving member of the Bo tribe of the Andaman Islands, died.

The Bo language, of which she was the last surviving speaker, died with her. The Bo tribe is believed to have inhabited the islands for over 65,000 years.

Boa Sr was born in the northern Andamans when her tribe still lived traditionally in the jungle. However, in the 1970s, the Indian government forced all of the Greater Andamanese tribes to give up their traditional way of life and move to a single island. There, the Bo tribe’s’ numbers dwindled due to alcoholism and other diseases, until only Boa Sr remained. According to linguist Professor Anvita Abbi, she spent the last 30 to 40 years of her life, after her parents died, unable to speak her native language to anyone. However, she was able to communicate using a local dialect of Hindi and by speaking Great Andamanese, a lingua franca made up of bits and pieces of all 10 Great Andamanese languages.

Professor Abbi told that the loss of the Bo language was important because the language, one of the world’s oldest, was “a vital piece of the jigsaw” that could have helped scholars piece together how languages have evolved. She further explained that “The Andamanese are believed to be among our earliest ancestors,” with many of languages on the islands believed to be 70,000 years old.

When the British began to settle on the Andaman Islands in the late 19th century, the island was already inhabited by the ten Great Andamanese tribes, with a total population of about 5,000, as well as other, smaller tribes. Now, there are only 52 Great Andamanese tribes people left. However, some of the smaller tribes still survive, with varying degrees of contact with the outside world.

Before she died, Professor Abbi recorded Boa Sr singing and telling the story of the 2004 tsunami in the Bo language. You can watch the video below.