Written by Administrator
Wednesday, 24 March 2010 15:53
wandering sea dwellers are believed by some experts to have been the first
inhabitants of the Andaman coastal regions of Thailand,
Myanmar and Malaysia. Today
only several thousand of them remain here, with few still living the
traditional life that took them to sea in their small boats for seven or eight
months of the year.
The Moken are related to other ‘sea gypsy’ peoples inhabiting island
archipelagos all the way to the Philippines.
Their language appears unrelated to any other, and their real origin is
unknown. Some experts believe it was the ancestors of the Moken who drew the
paintings found in caves in PhangNgaBay
and at other locations. There is a lot of conjecture and little concrete
information about their origins and history.
The Moken are without a doubt the masters of the sea, able to forage a living
from it by exploiting an amazing number of organisms here. During their seven
or eight months at sea each year those still living traditionally wander from
island to island in groups of a half dozen or more boats, each holding one
family, usually of three generations. They use nets, traps and spears to catch
fish and other creatures, and spend a lot of time diving with primitive gear.
In this manner they collect or spear shells, sea cucumbers, lobsters and any
other marine organism they can find. Some is for their own consumption, the
rest for sale in town markets where they come from time to time to buy rice,
cooking oil, fuel, nets, cooking utensils and the few others bits and pieces
their simple lives require. The thatched roofs of their boats are often covered
with fish, sea cucumbers, squid and other sea produce being dried for market.
During the monsoon from June to October the Moken move ashore, building
temporary huts from poles, bamboo and grass at the back of remote beaches.
During this time they repair and build boats, while still prying a living from
the surging, inhospitable ocean.
Moken have been settled into permanent villages, two of which are found on Phuket,
with another on Phi Phi. These villages are poor, dirty and bathed in an
atmosphere of depression. Some uncaring companies use the Moken village at
Rawai as a human zoo, bussing in tourists to gawk and point cameras at the
sunburnt, scrappily dressed people. The children beg from the tourists, even
grabbing things from them. It is the sight of a people dispossessed of their
traditions and dignity. Government officials have tried to draw the Moken
children into school, an effort that has been largely unsuccessful. As soon as
conditions are right for fishing the children desert the classroom to join
their parents at sea.
Only in the Mergui archipelago of Myanmar are Moken found living their
traditional lives in boats at sea. The myriad islands here shelter perhaps a
few thousand of them. Here again the authorities have begun an effort at
settling Moken into a permanent village at Pu Nala island.