SEA GYPSIES: EVIDENCE OF POST-DELUGE REMNANTS
Erle Frayne D. Argonza / Ra
Across the ASEAN are the maritime peoples called the ‘sea Gypsies’. They are very hard to classify with other peoples anywhere in the planet, just like their land Gypsy equivalents. Anthropologist or ethnologists are baffled by the Gypsies, in like vein that they are puzzled by the Basques of Europe.
Sea Gypsies have otherwise been termed as ‘human mermaids & mermen’ which seems to aptly describe them in the absence of acceptable inferences from formal science about what they are and where they came from. Science indeed has to catch up with the realities by discovering new analytical tools for studying human evolution.
Incidentally, Divine Wisdom or Theos Sophia had appresented a version of evolution that is cyclical and truly deep. In the mystical/occult version of human science, race is a central concept, with the law of evolution/devolution well explicated. Accordingly four (4) root-races have come to pass, in this 4th Evolutionary Round or devic-man phase, and we are into the 5th root race.
The last vestiges of the 4th human generic civilization—Atlantean—sank almost 12,000 years ago. Survivors of that last Deluge had three options to take: (a) go to very high places, nestle there for a while, and then go back to lower lands when the waters recede; (b) build underground cities before the Deluge, rescue as many as those who can be accommodated, seal the cities from the Aboveground when the waters come and continue human civilization there; and, (c) take flights in outer space via the galactic fleets’ auspices, then return to Earth when conditions have stabilized.
Gypsies were among those that took the 2nd option, by going underground. Unable to adapt to the harmonized conflict-free culture below the surface, the Gypsies could have been expelled by the underground cities’ guardians and leaders. This theory explains why Gypsies are so hard up in adjusting to contexts that are so alien to what they encountered before the deluge.
Below is an account of the sea Gypsies of Burma, with some notes about those of Thailand and peninsular Southeast.
[Philippines, 17 June 2011]
Burma “Sea Gypsies” Compendium
Report by Project Maje
8824 SE 9th Ave
Portland OR 97213 USA
“The Salons or sea gypsies are the among the smallest minorities in Burma and no less vulnerable or defenseless against human rights abuses committed by the junta. They need the attention of Human Rights activists and organizations.”
— Chin Forum Information Service
Freely roaming the ocean in small boats from birth to death, living simply off its riches, a Southeast Asian people seem as mythical as mermaids. These ethnic groups known as “Sea Gypsies” are still found from the Philippines to Borneo to Thailand to Burma. Their lives are romantic but increasingly difficult.
This report focuses exclusively on those from Burma’s waters. Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” face particular problems which may even threaten their existence as a culture and people. Amid the vast array of documentation on Burma’s human rights situation and ethnic groups there has been very little investigation about Burma’s “Sea Gypsies.” A series of books by a French ethnologist, two new books published in Burma, and a recent documentary film are among the main resources available. There has been little press coverage outside of a few tourism-oriented articles and a spate of news coverage in early 2004. Even an activist from the Mon ethnic group of the same region of Burma comments about the “Sea Gypsies”: “These people are living offshore and rarely have communication with the people on the coast.”
As a compendium, this report seeks to fill some of this information gap with a collection of 29 documents and articles from 1997 to 2004 concerning Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” in a format accessible to those who are interested in Burma and indigenous/nomadic peoples issues. This compendium is modeled on Project Maje’s previous “A Chin Compendium,” released in 1999. The material contained here is compiled for nonprofit public interest use. For reproduction contact the original sources. Be sure to credit the original sources, not Project Maje, if quoting from non Project Maje material contained here.
This is not a scientific study or a comprehensive report. It is intended as a reference and background resource. It draws upon available information in English about Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” from an array of sources, including news articles, tour agencies, and researchers. Project Maje, the compiler of this report, does not endorse, confirm or deny the veracity of any of the non Project Maje material.
In some cases, only excerpts directly relevant to the Burma “Sea Gypsies” are included, rather than a complete article. Places where articles were cut for excerpts are marked with three woven rattans (###.) The beginning and end of each article is marked with three nautilus shells (@@@.)
“Not only have the islands escaped development by the modern world, they don’t even have a significant indigenous population.” — “Adventure Travel” (a Hong Kong magazine)
The “Sea Gypsies” are known in Burma by a name spelled in variations including “Salon,” “Saloun,” “Salone,” “Salum” and “Salong.” “Salon” appears to be the most common spelling. The Burma regime tends to use the spelling “Salone.” Project Maje has in the past used the spelling “Saloun” for phonetic reasons. Some articles in this compendium refer to Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” as “Moken” (or “Mawken”) people, using the name of the “Sea Gypsies” of neighboring Thailand (who are apparently closely related.)
“Moken” is actually the most politically correct term, as it is what Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” call themselves. However, in news reports and tourism articles about Burma, “Moken” is not used as often as the Burmese (Salone/Salong) terminology which serves to distinguish those in Burma waters and under the Burma regime’s rule, from those indigenous to Thailand who have a different set of experiences and problems. The English name “Sea Gypsies” refers to a nomadic style of life, rather than any direct relationship to the Roma (Gypsy) people of Europe. In French, the descriptive phrase is “Nomades Marins” (Sea Nomads.)
Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” are rarely mentioned in books or reports on the ethnic groups of Burma. This obscure status is probably because of their inaccessibility, their lack of an armed force or political organization, and their very small population. In the days of British colonial rule over Burma (1885-1948), some scrutiny was brought to bear on the “Sea Gypsies” by traders, traders and administrators. The Burma “Sea Gypsy” population was estimated at 1,325 in 1901, but such figures were hard to verify due to the ethnic group’s nomadic nature. A 2000 article in “The Greater Phuket” magazine estimates between 2,000 and 3,000 “Sea Gypsies” in Burma. Tourist literature associated with various Thailand-based excursion companies often diminishes the extent of Burma’s “Sea Gypsy” population, referring to their region as uninhabited, or claiming that they exist only in one particular village. There are also populations of “Sea Gypsies” originally from Burma’s waters who live as refugees in Thailand, particularly around the port town of Ranong. In addition, there are an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 “Sea Gypsies” indigenous to Thailand, mostly living on and around the island of Phuket.
The Moken ethnic group, including the “Sea Gypsies” of Burma and Thailand, has historically been based around Phuket, a large Thai island which was a coastal trading center. Phuket, now a tourist resort island, was known in Malay as “Ujong Salang” which may or may not have given these people the name used for them in Burma. It has not been irrefutably determined whether the Mokens are an early autochthonous ethnic group of Southeast Asia, or are descended from some land-based group (such as the Mon-Khmer, Malay, or even Vedda) which took to the sea for economic or political reasons in centuries long past.
The Moken language, which has been classified as “Austronesian” features many Malay words, as well as strong Thai vocabulary influences. There are other ethnic groups in Southeast Asia known as “Sea Gypsies” which do not appear to be directly related to Burma and Thailand’s Mokens, although they live in a similar way. These groups live off the coasts of Malaysian and Indonesian islands including Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and the Sulu Archipelago. Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” are found amid the Mergui Archipelago, a chain of hundreds of small islands parallel to the southeastern Burma coast (Tenasserim) of the Indian Ocean’s Andaman Sea. Burma’s regime calls this the “Myeik Archipelago” (and calls Burma “Myanmar.”)
Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” are thought to have held fast to their own traditional Animist beliefs. French ethnologists Pierre and Jacques Ivanoff have made extensive studies of Moken belief systems, folklore and the spiritual symbolism used in their boat-building. There have been conversion efforts by Christian and Muslim missionaries but these made few inroads among the Mokens. Buddhist conversion efforts may be part of current relocation programs by the Burma regime.
A maritime hunter-gatherer culture, Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” are said to spend most of their lives on their thatch-roofed wooden boats. In small groups, they roam among the islands, harvesting crustaceans, turtles, and shellfish. Some accounts insist that the Mokens do not eat fish. Sea cucumbers, a holothurian animal related to starfish and sea urchins, are known as “trepang” or “beche de mer” when dried and are a delicacy of Chinese cuisine which the “Sea Gypsies” collect for trade. Several articles in the Compendium refer to these sea cucumbers as “sea slugs” but they should not be confused with actual sea slugs which are nudibranch snails without shells. Pearls and decorative shells have become Moken trade commodities as well. Vegetable crops are planted sporadically on the islands, which serve as seasonal meeting places and storm shelters. Trained dogs are used to hunt small game on the forested islands.
“The Salone nomads do not easily mix with other people. They do not participate in economic, social or even cultural development of the country they live in. Their society has different cultural values from those offered by modern society. They are locked in the value system that they believe to be their own.” — “Myanmar’s .net” website, 2004
Burma’s “Sea Gypsies,” whose ancestors may have originally taken to the sea to avoid conflict, were far removed from politics until the 1990s. Unlike many of Burma’s ethnic groups, they never had their own rebel army (or navy) although a few might have joined the forces of Andaman Sea coastal Mon or Tavoyan ethnic groups, or even seafaring units of the All Burma Students Liberation Front (ABSDF) or Arakan Army (from the Western Burma coast.) The “Sea Gypsies” were too poor to be the prey of pirates marauding in the Andaman Sea. Although some have accused Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” of being pirates themselves, there seems to be little evidence to support this and it may come from confusing them with more aggressive “Sea Gypsy” groups from elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
In the late 1990s a few reports leaked out about forced relocation by Burma’s military regime of Burma’s “Sea Gypsies” to on-land sites. At least one such report claimed that most of them had been relocated by 1997. This practice would be consistent with an enormous pattern of forced relocation of suspect ethnic, economic and political groups, conducted throughout Burma, particularly in the late 1990s.
The Andaman Sea off the Tenasserim coast received increasing attention from Burma’s regime during the 1990s due to offshore petroleum exploration, discoveries and transport by multinational corporations including Unocal, Total, Premier, Petronas and others. This led to a drastically heightened military security presence, with fishing communities of the Mon and Tavoyan ethnic groups moved elsewhere and small-scale fishing boats chased away. The increased presence of foreign trawler fleets under joint-ventures with the regime also discouraged small-scale local fishing.
While the effects of the 1990s developments on the “Sea Gypsies” off the southern coast of Burma were less well-known than those on the Mons and Tavoyans to the north of the Mergui Archipelago, reports indicated that the “Sea Gypsies” suffered as well. An unknown number of them are have said to have fled to Thailand. There the men reportedly took jobs on Thai fishing boats, a dangerous and often economically exploitive situation. Most of the fishing boats used legitimate methods, but there was considerable use of dynamite fishing by Thailand-based fleets as well. Refugee “Sea Gypsy” women and girls may have ended up in prostitution in Thailand’s notorious port brothels, where HIV/AIDS exposure was extremely widespread.
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