The Loss of a Language Family: Death of Boa Sr.

This is to condole the sad demise of Boa Sr. who breathed her last yesternight (26th Jan, 2010) at Port Blair.

Boa Sr. was the oldest and the most prolific of the Great Andamanese people of the Andaman Islands. Her death brings a silent catastrophe to the community which lost a heritage that is equal to identity. The deaths of Nao Jr. last year was the loss of the window from that community to the other world. The loss of Boa Sr. is the loss the house itself. What remains now is only the ruins in a shape and size that cannot even tell of the edifice that was there once.

Boa Sr. was almost the last link of the Great Andamanese language family. Out of a total of ten languages, Boa Sr. knew two languges, namely Bo and Jeru, and was familiar with some more languages of the family.

Boa Sr. died at an age of about 85 years. When we met her she seemed fine for her age. She had saved herself from the Tsunami of 2005 by climbing a tree all by herself in Strait Island. She was also the only member in the tribe who did not have anybody in her family surviving. Her mother, To, was a Bo, and father, Renge, was a Jeru. She was married to Nao Sr., a Jeru, at an early age. She did not have any children and her husband Nao Sr. also left her more than a decade ago. Her parents’, as well as her own marriage only testifies further a point made by her that in earlier times marriages used to take place between different language communities, i.e. different tribes. A preference for the same could easily be seen in most of the earlier matrimonial alliances. For example, out of six most senior members of the tribe, which we have recognized as having four different family lineages, four have had mixed parents.

She was the most proficient of the surviving Great Andamanese speakers and retained a vast repertoire of songs and narratives. Many of her songs had such strong influence of Bo that most of the other speakers of Great Andamanese today are unable to derive much meaning from them.
She was presumably the richest surviving member of the Great Andamanese tribe in terms of linguistic-reservoir. Her love for life was quite evident when she used to say that she would love to stay in Port Blair. For a society which was not acquainted even with a barter system, it was interesting to observe that she understood the value of modern currency. Among the things she would often ask for are scissors, blades, and different biscuits. It used to be a treat to watch her when she bursted into laughter upon things she would herself say. Our predecessors would have very much been like her!

It can be said that she was a person who had lived about five to ten thousand years of human history and seen and experienced the different stages of it within a life span. Her loss is not just the loss of the Great Andamanese community, it is a loss of several disciplines of studies put together, including anthropology, linguistics, history, psychology, and biology.

As the world moves for greater ‘development’ and ‘education’ percolates deeper into the veins of the untouched areas of humanity, let us pray that it will be well for all. To me, Boa Sr. epitomized a totality of humanity in all its hues and with a richness that is not to be found anywhere else.

Let’s pray for the peace of the great departed soul of Boa Sr. Amen!

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