Apparently anthropologists are needed in the Andaman Islands!
Rights campaigners and politicians Wednesday condemned a videoshowing women from a protected and primitive tribe dancing fortourists reportedly in exchange for food on India’s Andaman Islands.
British newspaper The Observer released the undated video showing Jarawa tribal women — some of them naked — being lured to dance and sing after a bribe was allegedly paid to a policeman to produce them. (Read the rest of the article here)
The people of the Andaman Islands were also the subject of a short paper I wrote almost two years ago. The topic is quite different than the article posted above about human rights violations, nevertheless, combined they illustrate that anthropologists are desperately needed in the Andaman Islands. Aboriginal peoples need representatives to fight for their human rights and cultures and languages need recording before they too sadly may disappear.
Culture Dies When Language DiesMarch 3, 2010
Last month a culture died, and so did 85 year old Boa Senior. Boa lived in the Indian Andaman Islands and
was the last woman alive to speak the Bo language. This language was significant to the world because it is thought to have originated in Africa and could possibly be over 70,000 years old. According to linguist Anvita Abbi, it may be one of the last remnants of pre-Neolithic languages. Abbi also said that as a result to Boa Senior’s death that “India had lost an irreplaceable part of its heritage.” The inhabitants of the Andaman Islands are thought to be some of the original inhabitants of India itself.
This is a dramatic case. Not only was the language lost, but so was the people itself. Boa Senior was all there was left in the world of her people, and now they are all gone. Quite often when languages die, the people themselves do not. However, it can be argued that when a language dies so does a great deal of the culture behind it. A language is unique to a people, and it ties them together. Why is it that Americans feel a stronger connection to England than to Germany when an estimated 40 million Americans have German ancestors (this is more than the number of people who claim English ancestry)? I believe it is language. My German ancestors that came to America adopted the English language and with it they forgot about their German culture. Another example of this takes place in Ireland. Everyone speaks English there now, but many strive to hang on to their Gaelic tongue. Irish culture is different from English culture, but they are becoming closer together everyday. I really believe this is because of language. Many Americans view most of Canada as an extension of the United States. However, not Quebec. The French Canadians of Quebec fight very hard to keep French the dominant language in the province while surrounded by the rest of English speaking Canada. The French language is part of the unique cultural heritage of Quebec, if they lose that, they’ll just be Canadians.
We express ourselves through language. Since English is native to me, I usually try to find the words in that language to express myself. However, us English speakers usually have to borrow words from other cultures because we just don’t quite have the right word to match an idea. ‘Déjà vu’, it is a feeling that is almost unexplainable. We’ve borrowed the French term that somehow just makes sense to us. Another great descriptive word that we have borrowed is ‘abyss’ from Sumerian. In English we would have to use multiple words such as bottomless, endless, void, darkness, loneliness, hopelessness to describe everything that we gather from just one simple borrowed word.
Language ties all of a culture’s many facets together. When a language dies, most times a new culture has taken hold on a people. Quite often there are remnants of that culture left behind and blended into another culture, such as ancient Sumeria’s culture, but it just isn’t the same. Celtic culture is not the same today as it once was. The English transmitted their language to Ireland, now the Irish feel much more connected culturally to the English than to their Celtic ancestors (some would argue this statement, but most would agree that Irish society has been transforming despite resistance). Most Irish have to learn Gaelic in College to be able to read old poems and stories. Not being able to read a story from your own culture surely is a perfect example of how when a language does, so does a big part of culture.
Alastair Lawson. “Last speaker of ancient language of Bo dies in India.” BBC News. 4 Feb. 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8498534.stm – There is a clip of Boa Senior’s voice on this page!