Ancient Tribe Goes Extinct as Last Member Dies
When Boa Sr, as she was known, died last week, she was believed to be about 85 years old. Her husband had died years beforehand, and Boa, whose name means “land” or “earth” in the Bo language, had no children.
In 1858, when the British decided to colonize the Andaman Islands and use them as a penal colony, they estimated that 5,000 Great Andamanese lived there.
“At first, the British didn’t notice any difference between the tribes,” said Sophie Grig, senior campaigner at Survival International.
But in 1879, a British officer named M.V. Portman was appointed officer in charge of the Andamanese, and after years of attempting to acclimate them to life as British subjects, Portman wrote “A Manual of the Andamanese Languages,” which distinguished the differences among tribal languages.
Portman’s own obituary, which appeared in The Times on Feb. 22, 1935, reads:
In many parts of the islands the natives were still either ferocious enemies or at best half-tamed; and his work consisted in making contact with them and very gradually bringing them to recognize the value of British rule.
“When people are dispossessed from their land and their way of life, they often turn to alcohol,” Grig said. “It’s not surprising, and it was very much true in the case of the Bo.”
In 1970 the Indian government began relocating the Bo to a settlement of concrete row houses on Strait Island. Boa Sr was moved in 1978, and Abbi said she often said that she missed her old life in the jungle.