The last tribesman (flash fiction)
Boisa sat on the edge of the cliff and looked out at the ocean as the sun slowly crept up the horizon. It was as though a live painting was being created on the sky with colours snatched out of thin air. But his feeling of wonder was tinged by deep sadness. He knew he would die soon but the cause of his sorrow was not just the knowledge of personal mortality. All the wisdom his ancestors had acquired by living off the land and sea that had been passed down the line through generations, all the rituals unique to his tribe, the language his people had fashioned on their own, the culinary practices they had crafted around the bounty of nature, all of this would also be lost. Boisa was the last of his tribe.
It had occurred to him the previous night, as he lay in bed remembering his parents, his young wife who had died at childbirth and the rest of his tribe who had been wiped out one by one by some unknown disease, that there was no one left to carry out his funeral rites. There was no one left who knew how to respectfully transition his body back into the earth and administer his spirit’s return to the spirit world and conjoining with the spirits of his ancestors. It made his shiver and turn cold on the inside, the thought that his body would lie for an unknown number of days, unfound, pecked apart by birds of prey, ravished by maggots, his bones exposed, while his spirit roamed lost with no loving spirit to gently guide it back home.
He looked down at the churning surf, a long way below his feet, hurling itself against the rocks. His ancestors had always prayed to the sea, for the bounty of fish and crustaceans, to keep their huts safe from the wrath of the waves. The sea had been their provider and guardian angel. The sea was kind, he felt that in his bones. The sea was wise, he felt that in his spirit. It accepted all. He would be safe in its huge watery arms. It would know how to release his spirit from its embrace into the arms of his loved ones. The sea would be his final resting place.
When he looked down again, he felt a sense of peace. His decision was made. He would wash himself, paint his body and play the drum. Then, he would gather his spear and bow and arrows and dance as his tribe would for celebrations. The spirits of his ancestors, he was sure, would arrive on his thus calling. The leap into the depths would then be easy for they would be waiting to take him home.
Inspired by a deeply saddening article in the Guardian, which said that four years ago the last member of a tribe called Bo in the Andamans died, rendering the tribe extinct.