Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled.
In January, Boa Sr died. At 85 years old, she was the last speaker of Aka-Bo. Until the 1850’s those who spoke Aka-Bo were one of 10 Great Andamanese tribes living their traditional life ways in the Andaman islands. Today, there are only 52 members of the remaining Great Andamanese tribes still living.
While the extinction of animal species receives considerable attention, the extinction of human cultures often goes unnoticed. Yet the loss of a people group and their cultural life ways is just as definitive as the loss of a species.
This is a tragic loss for the human family at many levels. Survival International has this haunting recording of Boa Sr singing:
What happened to the Aka-Bo? Hegemonizing civilization happened. It did its best to co-opt, pacify and manipulate the Great Andamanese after the British arrived on the island in the 1850s. When “pacification” of the indigenous people didn’t work, the British killed them by the hundreds and disease killed many more. The civilizing project was wildly successful. Within 50 years, the number of Great Andamanese went from 5,000 to 600. By 1961, there were only 19 indigenous Great Andamanese left. (Sources: Wikipedia and Survival International)
It would be nice to imagine that this cultural arrogance is a thing of the imperial past, relegated to material for the plot lines of Hollywood blockbusters. But the expansion of Western civilization continues at a breakneck pace. Here’s a story from just last year about a resort that is threatening the survival of another Adaman tribe, the Jarawa.
I’m reminded of this quote from Wade Davis:
We don’t think of ourselves as a culture in the West. We think that we somehow exist outside of time and culture. We’re the real world moving inexorably forward: Get with it or lose the train…
… we think that this economic system of ours exists out of culture, out of time, and is the inexorable wave of history when, by definition, it is simply the product of a certain set of human beings: our lineage.
With the death of Boa Sr, another people group died under the train of that lineage.
P.S. If you were looking for a review of Avatar or confused about why its mentioned in the headline, go read this excellent analysis by Nekeisha Alexis-Baker.