Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese by Anvita Abbi
This is a delightfully rich collection of stories and songs from a past world and a lost language.
Posted on 25.02.22, 00:17
Delivered: Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese
Author: Anvita Abbi
Price: Rs 995
My fondest childhood memories are of my grandmother’s older sister; she was my best friend and told stories of Thakurmaar Jhuli, Aesop’s fables, Panchatantra etc But nothing could match the tales of her childhood in the hills of Chittagong and then Dhaka, a place she left soon after the score. These tales are the memories that I carry and that I pass on to my daughter in the hope that she reconnects with her roots through these oral stories. Anvita Abbi Voice from the lost horizon – apart from its contribution to documenting and advancing the preservation of the great Andamanese language – attracts me as a gift from the last speakers of the language to the posterity of the great Andamanese community.
Abbi is not only a researcher and librarian but also a passionate lover of oral tradition. She tries to take the last speakers of the great Andamanese language back to their childhood to tell them long-forgotten stories and songs. The book opens with intricate geographical details of the Andamans and information about the inhabitants: the Great Andamanese, the Jarawa, the Onge and the Sentinelese, who migrated around 70,000 years ago from Africa. Abbi provides a lucid account of her search party and the problems they faced on Strait Island. The researcher’s testimonies constitute a rich source of ethnographic methodology for students of anthropology, culture, sociology and language as well as for all those passionate about environment-human relations.
What follows is a collection of 10 stories and 46 songs; although 60 songs were collected, the scholar was only able to decipher 46. The book is a visual treat with color photographs and illustrations and will appeal to young readers. It’s a beautiful fusion of an old-school ethnographic tradition and modern technology – the stories are linked with QR codes to share the invaluable experience of knowing the last speakers of Great Andamanese. The folk tales that claimed birds were the ancestors of the Great Andamanese (p 35) took me on a whirlwind of reflections on how animals figured so often in the “creation stories” of the Indigenous peoples of Canada and North America as well as in the mythical tales of the origin of Rome and the she-wolf feeding the twins, Romulus and Remus.
Each story – from Phertajido to that of Juro and Maya Lephai – is a story of human connection, curiosity, love, gratitude, sacrifice, revenge and survival; each introduces us to the life, experiences and customs of the greater Andamanese community. The myths and superstitions of the community, such as the various types of funerals according to the mode of death, take readers on a journey to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and their mysterious inhabitants. Paradoxically, these peoples who are thought to have descended from birds, a symbol of unlimited freedom and peace, are captives on their land (p 46) without citizenship rights. Abbi tells how she was threatened with arrest by the administrative agents if she continued her research on the people of the Great Andamanese. This only reveals the narrow bureaucratic view of preservation and research on ancient civilization and communities. The book is a rich collection of stories and songs from a past world and a lost language.
The researcher did full justice to the people she studied. Grand Andamanese may be an extinct language with the death of Nao Jr. and Boa Sr. – the last speakers – but their voices will resonate in the form of oral tales and songs that Abbi presents so beautifully. It is a legacy for future generations of the community and for anyone who loves to know how past and present are intrinsically woven amidst a future where human stories can seem unreal.