Today I'd like to talk about the Moken; unusual people who live on the seas in Asia. They are often called "Sea Gypsies" because they live on the water for 8 months out of every year. They only build shelters on land to wait out the monsoon season, when the waters are too violent to live upon.
I was always a fan of the concept behind Waterworld (though the movie stank) and I read a fantastic SciFi book years ago about a culture that lived only on the water. Perhaps that is why this culture seems so charming.
The Moken live an easygoing life. They are very poor, owning only the basic necessities of life. It keeps them safe from pirates and predators, and allows them to be very mobile.
Their food is caught daily and it's all from the sea; sandworms, crabs, fish, turtles, and anything else edible which comes their way. (I must admit, I cringed a little when I learned that they eat turtles because I love turtles so much. The sandworms I could deal with, as long as they were fried and salted).
They're a primitive culture with animistic beliefs, although they've been exposed to other religions. At one time, there were thousands of Moken, but now they've been reduced to only a thousand or less.
The Moken are a dying breed. Right now there are efforts to raise money in order to supplement their lifestyle, but is that the right thing to do? Something that once worked, works no more. Perhaps we should let nature take it's course and allow the Moken to die out through attrition.
Yet, it's the magical charm of this lifestyle which appeals to so many of us who have grown beyond such simple things, and it's the pull of a life on the water that reaches out to the adventurer in us.
Below are some photos which I found of the Moken people. As you can see, it's a completely different world and, in some ways, a better one.
Sadly, there are governments that are trying to force the Moken to settle down. The Thais have created a "reservation" where their Moken have been grounded and forced to live on land. As Erik Rogers writes, "Alcoholism is rampant, children have traded timeless customs and survivial instincts for candy, Coca Cola, and DVDs, and most of the villagers looked lost, destitute, and most notably bored. It’s like every American Indian reservation I’ve ever spent time in."