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The extinct Languages of Asia

Many languages throughout Asia have become extinct over time. This happens when there are no ancestors fluent in the language to pass it on, and the language no longer has any speakers. We follow the timeline along which some Asian languages have fallen out of currency. 

More than 100 languages across the Asian continent have undergone language death, have no native speakers or have no spoken descendants. 


Dicamay Agta 

year of extinction: 1974

Luzon, Isabela province, Philippines 

In 1957, only one family was left speaking the language. By 1974, the remainder of the community neither spoke nor understood the language, rendering the Dicamay Agta extinct.


Kyakhta Russian-Chinese Pidgin

year of extinction: 2000


This pidgin derives its name from a southern Siberian town known as Kyakhta and was an important language used by Russian and Chinese traders in the south of lake Baikai from the early 18th to the middle of the 19th century. A daughter language known as Manchurian Russian-Chinese Pidgin was formed in the second half of the 19th century as Russians gradually encroached upon Manchuria (northeast China).



year of extinction: 2010

Taichung and Miaoli, Taiwan

Pazeh was the language of a community of Taiwanese aboriginals of the same name. Closely related to Saisiyat, the language went extinct in 2010, following the death of the age 96 of Pan Jin-yu, the remaining fluent native speaker.  


(Read more on various other extinct languages of Asia from the full story available in print. Subscribe to our magazine here)




Hanuman The Ramayana

Monkey warrior, Hanuman, whose tale is told in the classical Hindu epic poem the Ramayana, is an avatar or incarnation of Shiva the Destroyer and is worshipped as a god in India. Known as a Varana, the Sanskrit term for a mythological forest dweller with simian characteristics, Hanuman exemplifies justice, righteousness, bravery and loyalty.

Born of an apsara (celestial being) and the god of wind, his powers were evident even from childhood when he tried to lunge for the sun, mistaking it for a ripe mango. His role was to rescue Sita, wife of Rama the seventh avatar of Vishnu and to help him destroy Ravana, the demon king of Lanka who kidnapped her. 

Connected to the winds, sun and thunder, Hanuman the commander of a monkey army is able to soar across the oceans, change his form and even lift a Himalayan mountain in his search for a herb to heal Rama's wounded brother Lakshmana. As he couldn't identify the particular herb he was supposed to gather, he gathered up the mountain on which the herb grew and brought it back instead. Quite practical, don't you think?

Consequently, monkeys in India enjoy a degree of indulgence due to their association with hanuman, although their behaviour in recent years has caused the government to consider monkey control in public areas. Who indeed, can control the monkey general?

By Khong Swee Lin

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No.116 Issue 1, 2016. 


Baboons were well-represented in ancient Egypt and were kept as sacred animals in several Egyptian temples. Featured in hieroglyphics, paintings, artworks, statutes and in sacred tombs, the ancient Egyptians believed that baboons were the first creatures to pay proper religious observances, as they were often portrayed with their arms raised in worship of the sun. 

Since baboons exhibit many human characteristics, it was believed that they were deceased ancestors. The baboon god Babi, also known as Baba, was worshipped for its sexual virility and was endowed with the aggressive characteristics of a dominant male baboon - attributes admired by the first kings of Egypt who fought for dominance in the land and their domains.

©ASIAN Geographic

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No. 116 Issue 1, 2016. 


The question posed in German composer Franz Schubert's immortal art song, "Who is Sylvia?", may be answered in this appreciation and retrospective on Singapore's Renaissance woman, Sylvia Kho (1917-2013), innovator and entrepreneur in the arts of fashion, beauty and decoration. As Singapore's foremost bridal couturier, creative and multi-talented Sylvia could perform even the most mundane of tasks with a certain, unmistakeable Sylvian flair. She not only changed the course of local sartorial currents, but created a whole new industry centered around one of society's most important rites of passage - the institution of marriage, and she is well-remembered by hundreds  of local and regional brides from the 1950s to the 1970s. Perhaps what is not so well-known is the other side of Sylvia...the story of a life nothing short of amazing.

Sylvia's Story

Many suns ago, at the invitation of local rulers, Hakka and Cantonese miners carved out uncertain futures - their yield of tin ore from the mountain ranges of the Malay Peninsula. Breaking their backs and fettered by indentures, these men from South China toiled amidst harsh tropical terrain. Kanching in Selangor, in the Federated Malay States (1896) was a tin mining and commercial centre, the seat of the Cantonese secret society, Ghee Hin Kongsi, whose name meant "the rise of righteousness". Within this extraordinary setting, unfettered unions unfurled, free from familial constraints and traditions.

Hakka tin miner and rubber planter Wong Yat Hin didn't conform in seeking a bride from his native South China. He had however, one unusual criterion - his future wife had to be literate (obviously he needed someone to keep his books). She would subsequently act as his interpreter, conducting negotiations on his behalf to secure a dredge for his mine in Kanching. 

Enter Chia Kim Siew, a Teochew Peranakan girl and a teacher who lived in Singapore's St Margaret's School, one of the few girls educated in English. The headmistress thought Kim Siew was of marriageable age and thus indulged in judicious matchmaking, pairing her with Wong.

Women of the Chinese Peranakan community (which developed out of early liaisons between Hokkien traders and indigenous women of the Malay archipelago since the late 14th century or so) were generally excellent housekeepers running their households with an iron hand (with or without velvet glove). Thus Peranakan women were not only skilled in needlework, but mistresses of their kitchens, concocting masterpieces of their complex, labour-intensive hybrid cuisine with a toss of spice or sprinkle of herb.

Needlework In Her Blood

Presenting three heirs and eight heiresses to the Wong family, Kim Siew ruled the roost in Kanching. All girls were given sewing and beadwork lessons daily. Discipline reaped rewards. Fifth daughter Sien Moy, or "Sylvia", could from an early age draft, cut and sew a pattern by herself impressing her needlework teacher to such an extent that she was asked to teach her peers upon attending school in later years. She also sewed Peranakan-style bed accessories for the nuptials of her father's estate workers. Her siblings were equally capable.

Their wise mother ensured that there was a time to play and work, and a time to pray. Her Christian beliefs firmly instilled in her children from a very early age shaped their characters and formed the cornerstone of Sylvia's ventures. The five girls briefly attended Selangor's and subsequently Singapore's Methodist Girls' Schools.

During the Depression, the family moved to Senai, Johor and they managed to attend school in Singapore where Sylvia ably looked after her sisters, a fact which was never forgotten in later years. Her entrepreneurial streak had begun to surface as she utilised her skills and love for sewing to support her siblings. Handmade Chinese-style "frog" buttons sold for two cents each. "Special" ones cost $5 each! She could sew Peranakan-style slippers for men and women or embroider cushion covers.

By Khong Swee Lin

Read more in ASIAN Geographic No.118 Issue 3, 2016.



Pleasing the Gods for a better year ahead.
On the day of Gajan, these sanyasis parade in the village of Kurmun, dancing with their recently procured skulls. The ritual honours the god Shiva.
Read more in ASIAN Geographic magazine No. 99 issue 06, 2013.

Contributed by Boris Joseph

Korea's vanishing mermaids

At 82, this haenyo is one of the oldest in her team, the oldest in Udo being 85.

Read more in ASIAN Geographic magazine No. 96 issue 03, 2013.

Contributed by Lynnette Ang

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ASIAN GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE celebrates Asia in all its rich diversity, from its natural environment to its assortment of wildlife, cultures and scientific discoveries. Based in Singapore, the team has its fingers on the pulse of Asia, with its award-winning contributors scouring the region to bring powerful stories and images to you. Titles under Asian Geographic Magazines include its flagship title ASIAN Geographic, PASSPORT, JUNIOR, and its diving titles, Asian Diver and Scuba Diver.

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