The Moken people

My youngest son had been studying natural disasters at school and taken a great interest in tsunamis. When he found out that we were going to spend Christmas exactly where that big famous tsunami they had been talking so much about in school happened – he was nervous. It was a great opportunity to be able to do some research with him and read up on the devastating 2004 tsunami that hit Phuket and the Andaman coast. When we started looking in to this we read about the fascinating Moken people and later had an opportunity to spend a couple of days with them on the Surin Islands. We visited the Morgan village, where these photos are taken.

The Moken people live on the coast and islands in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand, and Myanmar. Most of the 2000 to 3000 Moken live a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle heavily based on the sea. Aside from ancestor worship, the Moken have no religion. Their knowledge of the sea enables them to live off its fauna and flora by using simple tools such as nets and spears to forage for food. What is not consumed is dried on their boats, then used to barter for other necessities at local markets. During the monsoon season, they build additional boats while occupying temporary huts. Because of the amount of time they spend diving for food, Moken children are said to be able to see better underwater due to accommodation of their visual focus. The Moken do not have a written language and their history is passed down verbally through folklore from generation to generation. Family connections are strong and very dependable. The Moken language knows no words for individual possession which is reflected in a culture of sharing and giving. In 1981, the five Surin islands were established as Mu Koh Surin National Park, bringing profound changes to the Moken way of life. Restrictions were placed on their ability to hunt and gather from the reefs, beaches and the forest of their newly “protected” area, and movement between Thai and Myanmar waters became increasingly dangerous. Many Moken people now work in the national park.

The Moken survived the tsunami of 2004 unscathed, because they listened to their village leader who recalled an old saying “When the land argues with the sea – the sea goes away but always comes back to take revenge”. He urged everyone to go inland and up on the hills. They all did and all survived.

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