Here is an excerpt from a new story that has just been published about the Sea Gypsies in Myanmar…
Among the Moken, the Sea Gypsies of Myeik, by Jacques Maudy
The Myeik Archipelago consists of more than 800 islands of varying sizes, stretching from Myeik to Myanmar’s southernmost point at Kawthaung.
It’s 3 am, and I’m sitting on a freight boat off the shore of an island in the Myeik Archipelago as the crew sends signals to shore with a flashlight. Around five hours earlier, my guide and friend U Soe Khai (not his real name) smuggled me aboard, avoiding the watchful gaze of immigration officials at the Myeik Jetty. When I ask him why we had to do this, since my media permit gave me unrestricted access to the islands, he says: “This way immigration has no eyes and no ears.”
So began my six-day journey in search of the Moken, the elusive sea gypsies of Myanmar’s far south. The island, I later learned, is called Kristiang, and it is one of some 800 unspoiled islands extending from the town of Myeik all the way to Myanmar’s southernmost point, Kawthaung. The Moken, or Selung, as they are officially known, have lived among these islands and others farther to the south off the coast of Thailand for 3,500 years.
Despite their long presence in this area, however, the Moken are rapidly losing their way of life under pressure from the environmental impact of fishing and logging. To survive, they have had to adapt to modern life while still clinging to what’s left of their culture.