Last member of 65,000-year-old tribe dies, taking one of world’s earliest languages to the grave

July 6, 2013 4:05 pm 31 comments Views: 82197

The last member of a 65,000-year-old tribe has died, taking one of the world’s earliest languages to the grave.

Boa Sr, who died last week aged about 85, was the last native of the Andaman Islands who was fluent in Bo.

Named after the tribe, Bo is one of the 10 Great Andamanese languages, which are thought to date back to the pre-Neolithic period when the earliest humans walked out of Africa.


Boa Sr, who died last week aged about 85, was the last native of the Andaman Islands who was fluent in Bo

Boa was the oldest member of the Great Andamanese, a group of tribes that are the the first descendants of early humans who migrated from Africa about 70,000 years ago and who arrived on the islands around 65,000. Other groups went on to colonise Indonesia and Australia.

She lived through the horrors and hardships of the 2004 Asian tsunami, the Japanese occupation and diseases brought by colonisers in the 19th century.

Boa described the moment the tsunami struck: ‘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.’

Professor Anvita Abbi, a linguist who knew Boa, said the tribeswoman had been losing her sight in recent years and was unable to speak with anyone in her own language.

Boa had no children and her husband died several years ago.


‘Since she was the only speaker of Bo, she was very lonely as she had no one to converse with,’ Professor Abbi told the Times.

‘Boa Sr had a very good sense of humour, and her smile and full throated laughter were infectious.’


Satellite Image Of Asia


Professor Abbi managed to speak with Boa using a local version of Hindi and Great Andamanese, which is a mixture of all ten tribal languages.

‘We had an odd relationship, but also a very intense one,’ the professor said.

‘I spent a long time with her in the jungle and shared many moments with her. She was very proud to be the last member of the Bo.’

Boa was born in the jungle of the northern Andamans and grew up in traditional society, learning to gather wild potatoes and hunt for wild pigs, turtles and fish.

In 1970, the Indian Government moved the Great Andamanese tribes to the tiny Strait Island near Port Blair.

Boa lived in a concrete and tin hut provided by the government and survived on state food rations and a pension of about 500 rupees (£6.80) a month.

Sentinelese tribesmenSentinelese tribesmen, who ban any contact with outsiders, prepare to fire arrows at an Indian Coast Guard helicopter

‘She always said she wanted to go back to the place where she was born,’ Professor Abbi said.

‘Alcohol was a big problem. It was killing them one by one.’

The Bo are believed to have lived on the islands for as long as 65,000 years, making them one of the oldest surviving human cultures.

The king of the Bo tribe died in 2005, leaving only a handful of elderly members who also died over the next five years.

The Great Andamanese once numbered more than 5,000 and were made up of 10 distinct groups each with their own language.

But today, after more than 150 years of contact with colonisers and the diseases they brought with them, the Great Andamanese number just 52.

The only indigenous tribe that is relatively intact is the Sentinelese, who ban any contact with outsiders.

They were famously photographed firing arrows at an Indian helicopter after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

Professor Abbi said that Boa often told her how she envied the fact that the Jarawa and the Sentinelese had managed to avoid contact with outsiders.

She recalled: ‘She used to say they were better off in the jungle.’

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, a group that campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, urged the Indian Government not to resettle any the Jawara or other indigenous tribes.

‘With the death of Boa Sr and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of human society is now just a memory,’ he said.

‘Boa’s loss is a bleak reminder that we must not allow this to happen to the other tribes of the Andaman Islands.’

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  • Kim Sunderlage

    How sad. It’s as bad as a species of animal going extinct — only losing an entire human culture really ought to bring it home to many people. At least, I hope it does.

  • Nat

    This happened in 2010, so why is the author acting like it happened recently. State the facts appropriately.

  • Nat

    Here is the 2010 article of the same topic.

  • Peter_Akuleyev

    This article is linguistic nonsense. All languages change over time, even in fairly static cultures with little outside influence. Boa’s language would have been no more intelligible to her ancestor from 65,000 years ago than English would be to a Bronze age Indo-European nomadic tribesman.

    • Danjimaru

      A language only changes because of cultural development, and that is historically tied to interracial relationship of distinct cultures. Also change is hindered by the low number of speakers. Also many african originated languages don’t always use the vocal cord to make sound and some imitate certain animal sound patterns. Linguistic morpheology is a relatively new subject and while it holds true for most of the other languages, in regards to indigenous languages there is simply not enough data available to support your claim

    • Lee

      The language hasn’t changed, it’s DISAPPEARED ENTIRELY. That’s not even remotely the same thing. Sadly it won’ be the last indigenous language completely wiped out by colonialism.

  • Muawiyah

    Not exactly a total loss with each and every human being native to the subcontinent of India having Andaman ancestors. They are in the DNA.

    Thats 1.2 billion people right there.

    All that’s being lost is a primitive social order.

    • ugali saucer

      what gives you the right to call them primitive.. douchebag

      • Muawiyah

        What gives you punk asz white boy the right to question ME?

        One of our closest cognate tribes from Kerala died out just a few years back when the last native speaker passed on.

        We are now down to barely 10 tribes.

        I think you should go back home or something and not criticize those of us who are members of exceedingly small minority groups. Tell you what, we’d be big and powerful and own everything if we had half the inclination to steal stuff like you people.

        • David Weiss

          Listen racist illiterate. I don’t care what color you are. By speaking you revealed how primitive your mind is with your racist prejudice. That mentality is below primitive it is animalistic where you fear threats from other races and think you are so unique and deserve special attention. Why do you call them primitive? Stop playing the self pity and victim role like you are so important because you are a minority. Stop whining and being ashamed of your physical origins and realize we are all living humans with different backgrounds and have human respect. I would have to be where you are. You would probably kill me because I have a white body.

          • Muawiyah

            No, more likely because YOU TAN!

    • David Weiss

      They are viewed by people like you as primitive because you support as a premise a weak theory of evolution of man following Darwin which has flaws in the theory. Human and animal species have devolved and theoretically may be humans have devolved over thousands of years. You and other’s see natures a Euclidean linear process where everything in nature goes from lowest to highest. By simple analysis I have seen man devolve and become more primitive. Adaptation to a polluted environment has been bad, Millions die all the time from bad environment and there has been more war than ever.

      • Lee

        What happened here wasn’t actually Darwinism. Darwinism is survival of the fittest. Once technology invented by one superior mind can be used by any idiot to defeat subjugate and/or kill large numbers of people, it’s no longer survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the LUCKIEST.

    • Lee

      An entire people have been completely erased. It may mean nothing to you now, but I hope you never find yourself, old and alone, the last person able to speak your native language. It’s a terrible thing to happen to anyone.

      • Muawiyah

        I’d just tracked down the last few remaining members of the tribe my Laplander ancestors came from, and was trying to find out if it had been turned into a written language and I heard the last one of them who knew the language well enough to write it DIED!~

        The lesson is STUFF HAPPENS and sometimes there is absolutely nothing whatsoever you can do about it.

        I thought you were aware of that.

        • maias

          In the Uk the Cornish language was saved by getting the last known speaker, an elderly lady, to recite songs, stories, everything possible, and now a few thousand speak the language.

          • Muawiyah

            That was a near miss ~ but the Cornish language ALSO has a huge dictionary

            I’ve referred to it many times. Without that dictionary you can’t figure out what most Spanish noble titles mean ~ and they have a lot of titles and a lot of history.

            The problem with the Sa’ami languages is the lack of major vocabularies. They use OTHER languages as word sources ~ but their fundamental grammar is actually quite ancient ~ so ancient one of them even has the “source” of a major tense construction in German (it was passed from the Sa’ami to the Germans thousands of years ago during a period of serious contact).

  • wsurfs .

    One day, “they” will be digging ALL of us up and asking: “I wonder what these people were like”? We are ALL going to be extinct..!

    • Coded

      Hahahaha, yes you’re technically correct, with the way we are managing the earth today,it will happen sooner than later

  • Bagian McRimbang

    bad news, indeed.

  • Pipz

    The good doctor was able to have conversation with her and he didn’t take notes about her language??? What other chances do we have to find a language so directly routed to mankind dawn?

    • Lee

      That WAS extremely careless. It’s almost as though mourning the loss was preferable to preventing it.

  • George

    Walked out of Africa ? Dude,that was PROVEN to be a fact.
    Besides,there were remains found in Romania that are 75.000 years old,again dismantling you theory.

    • David Weiss

      You will swallow everything someone tells you as fact. You even believe you came from monkeys. There are so many flaws in evolution theory. Who the hell has enough data to consider as a matter of fact man came from apes? Who the f was there a million years ago to see it directly. You are probably a Star Trecky and fantasize about outer space the way it is depicted in a Sci Fi movie as if it is a virtual reality. Science has been wrong many times. Don’t let your blind faith believe in a bunch of so called honest scientists. They get rich with grants BS ‘ing everyone so they could hold on to their job. Recently Physicists stated they have a theory that this universe or material world is nothing but a hologram. or two dimensional that appears three dimensional. If this theory is potentialy true, how the hell can anyone say we came from apes when there is a lot of evidence that we were co habituating with alien extraterrestrials?

    • Lee

      The oldest human fossils are195 000 years old and they were found in Ethiopia. The theory still stands, and is now backed up by global DNA studies.

  • sattar rind

    it is amazing story but this is called life … its has to go on..

  • David Weiss

    how can these anthropologists know it’s the oldest language on earth? Sanskrit is theoretically the oldest even though it can’t be prove, They base their theories weak assumptions so they can get their fat salaries and continue speculating what happened on earth 65 centuries ago. Science is not always that accurate. There was no written evidence to collaborate their theories and only a highly educated guess work

    • Lee

      But we do know for a fact that an entire language and people have disappeared. That’s bad enough.

    • Shiv

      Actually, Tamil is significantly older than Sanskrit.

  • paulo

    How are they the oldest tribe yet the Barbarians left Africa 200,000 years ago. And of course the Africa ns left behind are automatically the oldest tribe. Or how is the old classification made?

  • espia8321

    hoping they took videos of her, recordings, and documented her story and the story of her tribe