Moken people

The Moken ( Thai: มอ เก น ) are one of the Southeast Asian peoples living as sea nomads in the eastern Andaman Sea, in the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea. Their way of life is semi-nomadic. During the monsoon season, they remain on the islands, in the rest of the year they pull with boats from island to island and live mainly from catching fish, and seafood.

The Moken are in the older literature often referred to as " sea gypsies " (English: Sea Gypsies ) refers to a pejorative collective term for several ethnic groups, similar to the Thai name Chao Leh ( ชาวเล - literally people of the lake ), or Chao Naam ( Literally. waterfolk ). In contrast, the Burmese name Selung (also Selon, salon or Salone ) refers only to the Moken.

They are divided by some authors into two groups, the Moken Pula ( in the field of Burmese islands of the Andaman Sea ) and the Moken Tamub (on the Surin Islands, in the community of Ko Phra Thong district Khura Buri and on the coast of the district Takua Pa in Phang Nga province in southern Thailand ). But there are also other subdivisions in use.

Close relatives of the Moken are living in Thailand Moklen in Takua Pa, Phuket ( เกาะ ภูเก็ต ) and surrounding islands.

The Moken, Moklen and the Urak Lawoi ( at Rawai Beach, Phuket, Siray on the islands, Phi Phi ( หมู่ เกาะ พี พี ) Lanta ( เกาะลันตา ), Muk ( เกาะ มุก ) bulon ( เกาะ บุ โหลน ) Lipe ( เกาะ หลี เป๊ะ ) and Adang ( เกาะ อา ดัง )) are of the Thais usually referred to with the imprecise term Chao Leh and erroneously regarded as a group.

Language, origin and settlement area

The language of the Moken belongs to the western branch of the Malayo -Polynesian languages ​​, a subgroup of the Austronesian language family. Anthropologists suggest that the ancestors of the Moken were Proto - Malays, who, coming from Southern China, about 2500 BC, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo populated. Even today, living there about 70,000 direct descendants of these early inhabitants of the region (West Malaysia: Orang Asli = original people, Borneo Dayak ). After the ancestors of the Moken had adopted the lifestyle of sea nomads, they expanded their settlement area in the west of the islands of the Andaman Sea and the east to the Sulu archipelago (now part of the Philippines ).

The immigration of other peoples in the entire Southeast Asian region, the development of various empires, the period of colonialism and the emergence of modern states, the sea nomads were told repeatedly restrictions on their nomadic way of life. The settlement area of the Moken finally concentrated in the eastern Andaman Sea, from the present-day Myanmar in the north, through Thailand and Malaysia to the Indonesian islands to the south.

Although many still live semi-nomadic Moken on their boats and the islands of the Andaman Sea, the freedom of movement, however, is severely limited. Especially in Thailand, they were forced in the past to be sedentary. The traditional nomadic way of life were seen all those Moken who live in the Mergui Archipelago in the south of Myanmar. Their number is estimated at several thousand. However, the Government of Myanmar has begun to urge the sea nomads to settle on the island of Pu Nala. But few Moken have passports of the countries in which they live; the majority is stateless.


A central role in the lives of the Moken naturally play their boats, called Kabang. They were (and are there for the nomadic survivors still ) the "houses" of the Moken, including kitchen, sleeping area and living room. In groups of about six to ten boats, each of which houses a family, they move from island to island. Approximately eight months of the year spend the sea nomads on the sea. Only during the time of the monsoon, which, by region, occurs from June to November, they colonize the island coasts for a few months. This time is used to repair the boats and, when it is necessary to build a new one.

Traditionally, include the construction of the boats, which takes place in community work, fishing with nets, spears and traps and diving for clams, sea cucumbers and other seafood to the tasks of men. The women care for the children and the accommodations on the coasts of the islands. Livelihood is still mainly the sea, so the fishing. In addition, they also use a variety of plants as food, medicine, and as a building material for the production of household goods, musical instruments or tools.

Fish and seafood are primarily personal use, used surpluses to in order to sell at markets. For rice, oil, gasoline purchased for the use of increasingly place engines of boats, nets and everyday objects. In addition, income from in this region only incipient tourism are becoming increasingly important.

Are problematic, as almost everywhere, where state authorities try to regulate the traditional way of life of indigenous peoples, the lives of those who yielded to pressure and sedentary were. The loss of the traditional way of life is often accompanied by the loss of their own culture and the gradual assimilation to the majority of the peoples of the region. Attempts to integrate the children of the Moken in the public school system, proposed so far, however, failed for the most part. The children usually prefer to go with the adults for fishing on the sea.

A particular problem is the handling of unscrupulous businessmen with the " sea gypsies ", for example, bring to Phuket tourists in buses or excursion boats to their settlements as if they were zoo for humans. Since 1997, the Andaman Pilot Project of UNESCO exist. It should help the Moken to preserve their traditional way of life and adapt in a manner to changing circumstances ( state regulations, tourism, etc. ), which receives its culture and their knowledge of the sea and the local nature. The aim is not only back to allow the Moken largely self- determination, but also to use their knowledge of nature in the region for sustainable development, especially in tourism.

An existential problem for the Moken, as for all sea nomads of the region, is the gradual withdrawal of their livelihoods, fisheries, . Due to the competition of the large fishing fleets The trawler ( trawler ) move their fishing areas of the high seas closer to the shores, so in the traditional fishing grounds of sea nomads, and these make it more difficult still bring abundant catches.

The earthquake in the Indian Ocean in December 2004 destroyed a number of settlements of the Moken on the islands of the Andaman Sea, especially on the Surin Islands, Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. As this is the sign of the tsunami, in their language " the wave that eats people " - the retreating sea - realized they could themselves and some tourists seek shelter in time, and it was just a fatalities. Thanks to private donations and the support of UNESCO and by the supreme council of the Buddhist religion in Thailand ( Sang Karat ) who had fled to the mainland Moken were free to return to the islands in January 2005 and will be supplied with the essentials ( tools, kitchen utensils u.ä. ). The pile huts, which are renewed annually anyway, could be rebuilt within a few days. The main issue is to replace the damaged vessels.


The religious beliefs of the Moken is animistic, determined by the belief in nature spirits and the spirits of the ancestors. Shamans are in contact with the spirit world, make predictions and are especially the healer of the community. The most important festival of the year is the Ne -en Lobong, whose focus is on the Lobong, piles harboring the spirits of the ancestors. At this festival relatives and friends come together from far flung areas. For three days and nights the work rests. Instead, fasting and singing, dancers put yourself into a trance. At the end sometimes is a small boat that Lajang, brought to the sea, misfortune, illness and evil forces to carry.