The Death of Bo

Think. The last member of your clan dies and what you had hoped would outlive you has gone. Disappeared from the face of the earth, the universe after 65,000 years of existence.


Boa Senior, the only one left of the Bo tribe of the Andamans, died at 85. And took with her every remnant of a culture, a language, a way of living.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said, “With Boa Senior’s death and the extinction of the Bo language, a unique part of society is now just a memory.”

A memory for whom? Who would know and, even if they did, why would they remember?

Apparently, she once told linguists, “We were all there when the earthquake came. The eldest told us ‘the Earth would part, don’t run away or move’.”

They knew how to survive. Yet, they were not allowed to. First it was the British colonisers who killed them or just let them die of diseases they could not cope with due to the advent of new viruses. Their departure did not help. The process of civilisation is complicated and in the urban mindset it means trying to change people. But only superficially. You give them clothes to cover themselves up, but nothing is done to preserve their heritage. Or if it is, there is commercial exploitation.

They provide fodder for photographers; a visit is considered dangerous and akin to a trip to a wildlife sanctuary where you are supposed to spot them.

Channels such as Discovery do attempt to trace them and provide a semblance of understanding, yet no one is concerned in helping them live their lives the way they want to by working within their system and needs.

The more accessible tribes are showcased on important national events for their dances and acrobatics. Those who have creative talent are given some materials to express it; these are then sent to the market and sold at trumped up rates. One does not know how much the tribals themselves benefit from it. There would be totem visible star who will be taken to award shows as a symbol of our national culture.

How many of us remember? How many of them have been sustained after this? Besides, can we not respect the fact that what they draw is rudimentary and meant for rough walls and floors and not soft boards? I feel sickened by the idea that these are displayed in houses that reek of ostentation.

Am I over-reacting? Isn’t it better than leaving them in little places? The point is that we are not including them in what we call civil society; we are using them, and that too not all of them. The rest will continue to be in those places until some great shining hope in the form of big fat cameras descends to capture their work or their breasts.

Boa’s death is a frightening reminder that the thousands of years of what was created and built upon was allowed to perish.

The Bo was a sub-tribe of the Great Andamanese; there are only 52 left of these as well. I can only hope that we get some sense and work on preserving them and what they stand for. It is not they who need to be civilised but we, for our callousness and our idea of inflicting supremacy on those who still have some self-esteem to keep their culture alive.

The beauty is that they don’t even know it. If only such innocence could be canonised in a world where even saints need to perform miracles.


  1. The hitory of the Americas and Australias is full of many such forgotten Bo's :(

  2. Thanks Farzana,
    very nice salutation to the Andamanese culture and people and this last giant of a woman,Boa Senior.
    Do we have recordings of their language? Why no body chose to learn it. Loosing a language is worst than loosing a species.Does any body know what structure this language had ?Did it have script?Oh so many questions.
    kul bhushan

  3. The only way to do this right is to educate and enrich the people with modernity, so that they can write their story and history for themselves and us.

    Discovery channel observing them like some caged species or some professor in linguistics going to increase his Bo-speaking skills does nothing to preserve the peoples that give rise to such thoughts we aspire to understand.

    A small group of people with resourcefulness and good intentions could modernize the outlook of the entire tribe of 56, and record their outlook of the world, but only if they consider the tribe sophisticated humans with a different view of the world than all of us...treating them like the "burden of civilized people like us" is just wrong and supercilious.

    Take all of them to visit mainland India to see for themselves and they will tell you which part of themselves they are proud of, and how they want to change to be something different.

    Ancient peoples such as these are not some species in the zoo -- they have much wisdom to give....if only someone stopped to listen.

  4. You are being harsh on those who are attempting to market their work. That's the best they can do when faced with hostile tribes. I get your main argument but this is about commerce. Too much idealism!!

  5. Khalil, Kul Bhushan:

    It is a sad state of affairs and the reports did not mention any preservation of language etc.


    Very perceptive, but...

    The only way to do this right is to educate and enrich the people with modernity, so that they can write their story and history for themselves and us

    History is written by others, often. Even Gandhi and Nehru wrote only from their viewpoints.

    Tribal cultures are antithetical to modernity as we understand it. There has to be a conduit to bridge the gap, and the initiative has to come from outside. The more important thing is to ensure that they do not die, so procreation must e encouraged and survival. Many die due to diseases and lack of health care.

    I think facilities for these should be provided without intruding into their cultural space.


    What do you mean by hostile tribals? There is enough hostility in our so-called sophisticated environment. The problem is not with marketing their work, but using them commercially. Does it benefit them?

    I am an idealist, and have never agreed with the accusation of being a cynic. Thanks for saying it. An idealist asks the right questions.


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