In Memory of Bo

No, not this Boe:

But rather, this Boa:

Boa was the last living speaker of the language Bo, named for the tribe of Bo, of the Great Andaman peoples who once populated the Andaman and Nicobar islands off of India.

If this link works, you’ll be able to see a video of Boa singing in her now extinct native language.

Maybe it’s hard for a non-academic pointy-head to appreciate the singular tragedy of Boa’s passing, but give it a shot. Beyond the sad tale of military decimation by the British, then the effects of paternalistic colonial-style policies by both the British then the Indian governments, leading to the literal extinction of complete races of these aboriginal peoples, there remains the tragedy of our lost links to human pre-history. Yes, as with all things, the passing of Boa is being characterized first and foremost as a loss to the selfish modern world, and not so much as the legacy of a brutal crime committed by the modern world.

Very few anthropological links remain to human prehistory. It’s remarkable how little we actually know about how the human animal lived, felt and thought prior to the innovation of writing and thus the recording of history. To examine such times would help answer some of the most fundamental questions of human existence having to do with what is natural and what is constructed. The perhaps thousands of years of human language prior to the advent of civilization a mere 6-10 thousand years ago reflect a sentient mind emerging from the grace of naturalism and into the realm of instrumentalism and exceptionalism.

With the passing of Boa goes one of our last connections to a language that reflected that ethic. In fact, it’s believed that the language of Bo predates the Neolithic period, thus pre-dating what we define as civilization.

The continued paternalistic treatment of the surviving Andamanese concerns me greatly, as does modern civilization’s treatment of extant tribal Aboriginals globally. In my review of the movie Avatar, some commenter made the annoying and all too common criticism, “I’m wondering why we don’t call Europeans in Europe with family ties dating back centuries aboriginals as well”.

Well, fool, we don’t call them that because the word “Aboriginal” refers both to a lengthy historical attachment to a place (typically lasting thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years) combined with a modern political, geographical and cultural marginalization of that extant and threatened race. I’ll never understand why so many people feel threatened when the plights of such vulnerable peoples so rarely manages to make it onto the public agenda.

Species, peoples, cultures, languages, religions and ideas all go extinct. That’s the way of things. But, you know what? It’s not necessarily the fact of it that should worry us. It’s the how of it. The Andamanese tribals are the victims of centuries of genocidal policies. As far as I can tell, one tribe remains.

You know what the first image I found when I Googled “Andaman”? This one:

Yeah, it’s a British tourist ad. Boa is dead. Her race is extinct. And her ancestral land is now the domain of drunken, shagging chavs from England.

In Other News

My latest article is up at India Currents.

And I’ve begun to archive my haikus!