Moken gypsies find themselves at sea in the modern world

Posted: 05/27/2012 in all marine news

Lindsay Murdoch –

They live in stilted shacks built on a mud flat above piles of oyster shells, broken glass and rubbish, their nomadic days on the seas of South-east Asia gone forever.

Liya Pramongkit, an elder and midwife of Thailand’s largest group of Moken-speaking sea gypsies, saw her people on the small island of Koh Lao dying at the rate of one a week, many of them starving mothers and babies.

“We have lost our traditional way of life as our children no longer hear the stories that have been handed down by our ancestors,” Liya says, her deeply lined face showing the hardship the Moken have suffered since they were forced to leave their seafaring lives, where the only things that mattered were the tides, the fish, the storms, the moon and the sea spirits.

“Before, when we lived and died on the sea, life was much better,” she says.

More than three decades working in Bangkok’s slums did not prepare Catholic priest Joe Maier for what he saw on Koh Lao when he made his first 30-minute boat ride here from the Thai fishing port of Ranong, in south-west Thailand, four years ago.

“The people were literally starving to death, trapped between the modern world and the Moken world,” Father Maier says.

“I have never seen people as poor.

“The women did not have milk in their breasts to feed their babies and everyone had [intestinal] worms … there were no traditional values … it was a matter of basic survival.”

Full story…

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