Sea-dwellers of mother ocean are one of the mysteries by the globe. Myanmar has possessed such kind of marine residents called Moken over centuries. They are commonly known as sea gypsies in Southeast Asia.
Today-Moken are descendants from the Great Austronesian Expansion who were forced to sea by a group of Chinese expansionists over 3,500 years ago. In Myanmar, they live in the Mergui Archipelago, a batch of approximate 800 islands between Myanmar and the islands of Thailand North Andaman coast. The Moken are called “sa lone” by Burmese people where as they are known as “chao le” (people of sea) or “chao nam” (people of water) in Thailand. According to the wind and weather, most of their lives are spent in sea as they shift from bay to bay across the sea. Their mastery on the sea make them survive by using ordinary tools like spears and nets. Moken’s boats are called kabang, at the top of which is used for drying up the marine creatures they collected, for their new days or for barter with other basic necessities such as rice and salt. Their boats play an important role as the boats are useful for both transportational craft and living accommodations to them.
Moken have strong family relationship. The history of Moken has passed down verbally from generation to generation since they have no written language. Thai Moken can be found in the villages of Surin Islands of Phuket Province and Phi Phi Islands in Krabi Province. Most of them are animists who respect natural resources as well as enviroment and they live indivisible harmony with nature. Obviously, they are perfectly matched with nature as they utilize 28 species of plants for medication, 105 of which for shelters and handicrafts, and 80 plants species for food.
The Moken settle in mainland for a moment in the monsoon period between May and October. Meanwhile, they build more boats and earn living upon nearby forests. Due to their extraordinary nature, they get lesser space in modern age and have been civilized into poor villages, Modern property and immigration laws, marinetime conservation and development programs, industrial fishing emptying the sea and strict border policies have made them diminishing in number.
Although Moken’s lifestyles, language and customs are unusual to modern people, they got a peaceful history of coexistence with their mainland neighbours. As the marginalization of Moken is increased year by year, please take a closer look to them near Mergui Archipelago before it is too late!
Written By Ms.Nyein Chan Htwe