Sea gypsies reunite amid unequal treatment


PHUKET, Nov 23 – Thailand’s southern tourist town of Phuket has organised a sea gypsy ‘reunion’ to strengthen their network and maintain their tradition and culture, according to Phuket governor Maitri Intusut.  

He said the event is primarily aimed at recognising them and their living difficulties and harassment by land developers who have encroached their habitats.

Sea gypsies–called Chao Le in Thailand–comprise three major ethnic groups: Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi. They speak different languages, share related cultures.

The sea gypsies have lived along the Andaman coast in southwestern Thailand for more than 300 years. In Thailand, about 12,000 of them are scattered in Phuket, Phang-nga, Satun, Trang and Krabi provinces.

Niran Yangpan, a sea gypsy from the tsunami victims and human rights network, said the three indigenous groups are encountering the same problem–encroachment on their land and the sea where they do fishing for their living.

About 600 sea gypsies have yet to get official ID cards and many are uneducated, Mr Niran said, expressing concern that their languages and cultures are disappearing.