OBITUARY

With profound grief, I would like to share that Lico, (pronounced as Licho by her community members), one of the last speakers of Sare, the Great Andamanese language breathed her last on April 4th, 2020. She was not only my friend but one of those who taught me the Present Great Andamanese language. There are so many years of memories of the last 20 years that I had known her it is difficult to fathom that she would not be there when I visit Port Blair next. Great Andamanese people, according to the population geneticists are the remnants of the first migration from Africa that took place 70,000 years ago. Licho worked with the Education department of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and she was one of the smartest women of the tribe.A vibrant and articulate woman, she had opposed the construction of a road through the territory of the Jarawa, another endangered tribe living on the Andaman Islands. “The Jarawa will be decimated, just like us,” she feared.

My very first introduction to her was when I reached the Islandin 2000-2001. She came out to be a bold and forthright person, who was also an activist, ready to fight with the administration for the rights of tribals. She was ambitious and wanted her children to be educated in Nicobar so that they keep away from the city of Port Blair which she considered a city of vices. She not only taught me the Present Great Andamanese (PGA) language, a Koiné of a kind (mixture) where words are drawn from four North Andamanese languages viz. Bo, Khora, Sare, and Jero/Jeru but the grammar is based on Jero. She hailed from the Sare background, as her foster grandmother who brought her up, was a Sare speaker. With Licho’s death we have lost the last speaker of Sare.

Lichowas the first child of King Jirake from his first wife, Loka, who was from ‘now-extinct’ Puchikwar (Pujukkar) tribe. It is important to note that she was brought up by her foster maternal grandparents; grandfather being a Puchikwar and grandmother a Sare speaker. Her biological grandparents were both from Khora tribe and spoke the language by the same name. Her mother Loka had died just after she gave birth to Licho. Lichowas married to Golat and had five children: two daughters – Kobo and Lephe and three sons – Moroko, Buli and Berebe. Kobo died several years ago in childbirth. All her children are married except the youngest son Berebe.

I was honoured to have her launch the first book of folk tale of Great Andamanese creation myths.

Her teachings helped me prepare the encyclopedic dictionary of the language later.

When I was working on the grammar of the language, I would visit her at Adi Basera—the Tribal Home for the Great Andamanese tribes in Port Blair. She would leave whatever work she was involved with and sit with me for hours without showing any sign of boredom or tiredness. Her judgement about the grammaticality of the sentences helped me in framing grammatical rules of the language. Often, she would identify the etymology of a word in the language and inform whether it belonged to Sare or Khora or Jeru.

Although she was known in her community as a person who would pick up fights easily, I came to know her as a strong individual who struggled despite all the odds for the betterment of her children. She was battered and bashed but nothing brought her spirits down. She carried the legacy of one of the oldest civilizations and its language on this earth. While others in the community were proud to forget their language, she remembered the heritage language and often lamented that the community at large had taken to Andamanese Hindi. Licho was proud of her ancestry—those who were known for valour, courage and fearlessness. She told me that she was taught hunting in the jungle by her father and grandfather.

She had a soft side too. When I reached the Strait Island in March 2008, I was disappointed to see that the so called ‘government guest house’ did not even have basic facilities such as clean sheets for the bed or mosquito nets, despite the fact that these items are supplied free by the administration for the use of the researchers. On seeing this dismal situation, she took no time in rushing back to her basti ‘hamlet’ and brought back clean sheets, a cover, a pillow, and a new mosquito net for me. It was a large room with three empty wooden beds. I remember vividly it was an eerie dark night, with bats flapping their wings somewhere in the room, quite scary with strong winds lapping against the windows, raining hard outside and the room was pitch dark as the Island had no electric power. The room was next to a swamp created by the tsunami, with frogs croaking and crickets making loud noises. Licho sensed uncomfortableness and fear on my face. She immediately offered to sleep in the room to give me a company. I was touched by her offer. She ran again to her home in the rains to fetch another set of beddings for herself. We kept on talking past midnight like two lost friends meeting after ages. She was the only friend I had in Port Blair and I never failed to visit her whenever I went to the Andamans. She was very unhappy but never forgot to smile.

I have shared happiness on many of her joyful family occasions like the birth of her youngest son Berebe, marriage of her children, announcements of their employments and promotions as well as sorrows of losing her father and her daughter. She was the only person from the tribe who was available on the phone and thus she turned out to be the most indispensable contact person. In fact, she trusted me to the extent that she would call me even when I was outside India in Germany or London or in the USA and seek my advice on various household decisions as well as to how she should invest her savings or whether she should take loan to buy a boat.

Recently, her children visited me home when they came to New Delhi for sightseeing. Both Lephe her daughter (also known as Tamtam) and her son Buli married outside the Andmanese community.

I have developed a kind of reverence for the Great Andamanese language primarily because of my association with Licho and Nao Jr. (died in January 2009), that has helped me in writing an encyclopedic talking dictionary, a grammar of the language, material on indigenous knowledge, a book of alphabets, a book of names and classification of birds,a CD of songs and hundreds of images. Most of the materials are being archived with the ELDP program of SOAS https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI64241 and on this website.

Licho had been ailing with multiple diseases of heart and lungs including tuberculosis that she had been fighting with for many years. I met her last in 2019.

May her soul rest in peace!!