Bo Selecta

Boa Sr. Andaman Islander and the world's last speaker of Bo. RIP

So that’s that then. You’ll not be hearing any more Bo. In fact, you won’t have heard it spoken for a while, because Boa Sr (pictured left) was the only one left who could speak the language.

However, you can hear her sing in Bo.

According to Survival International, Boa Sr was  last member of the Bo tribe on the Andaman Islands, which lie between India and Burma. There weren’t a huge number of them to start with, and their numbers have been in decline through violence or disease since British colonization in 1858.

According to linguist Professor Anvita Abbi, who knew Boa Sr:

‘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 humour 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 neighbouring Jarawa tribe, were lucky to live in their forest away from the settlers who now occupy much of the Islands.

Survival International’s director Stephen Corry said:

‘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.’

Variations on the theme of endings, loss and departure have begun to crop up in this Blackwatertown blog more frequently. That’s where my mind must be at the moment.

Sad to think of Boa Sr’s loneliness. And sad also to learn about the extermination of individuals through disease, imprisonment or gunfire. Progress – as it’s also known.

But does it really matter that a language becomes extinct? Species, languages, places, communities rise and fall. New developments are able to fill the space. Would it be desirable to interrupt this process?

Is it conceivable that English could one day survive only in artefact? What about Manx or Cornish or Irish or Welsh? Efforts are underway to resuscitate Manx and Cornish. Irish is hanging on. Welsh seems more secure.

To everything there is a season.

(As long as it’s some faraway language dying out that doesn’t inconvenience my own life. You can only take the philosphical approach so far.)


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