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Phuket Property and Homes - Rawai

Phuket Property and Homes - An Overview On The Sea Gypsies

The Sea Gypsies (or Thai–mai or The Moken) are possibly the friendliest Thais you could ever meet, who ask for nothing more that the prospect of feeding themselves as they have done for millennia, from the sea.

Gypsy history is at its best vague, as their language, which is partially Malay, cannot be written down hence no authentic records exist to confirm the origins of this ancient race who claim to have been in these waters for over 2000 years. Although this cannot be proven, it is generally accepted that the Na Goo, as they call themselves, were indeed the first residents of Phuket.

The Gypsy village in Rawai is the largest on Phuket Island. This community is predominantly Buddhist, with quite a few quirks of their own, such as burying their dead as opposed to Buddhist cremation and they call their "tribe" the Dtee Bak (Lions of the Seas).

Most other communities, of which there are many (three on Phuket) are Muslim, although, true to their culture, they mix and match quite happily. This is probably due to the fact, that on a daily basis their lives literarily depend on each other when using the extremely dangerous methods they employ when harvesting from the deep.

Diving, using antiquated air compressors and garden hoses to supply unfiltered air, accounts for more than 50% of the Gypsies fishing income and making their huge fish traps is hard, labour intensive work and well worth seeing.

kids on the beach      sea gypsies fish trap      sea gypsies diver

Please click on the images for a larger view.

These traps are made from a Mangrove wood frame and a wire mesh covering, which disintegrates in sea water within about 5 months, this leaves the Mangrove timber to become a hollow frame which then becomes part of the coral reef, this in turn becomes colonized making it an ideal breading ground for small fish.

It therefore annoys me intensely when I hear of sports divers destroying Gypsy traps on the pretext of conservation when in reality they are stealing the food from the mouths of these poor people. Hell, the aircraft they arrived on caused more environmental damage than the Gypsies ever did.

The Gypsy boats (longtails) are serious working boats and not licensed to carry passengers, but as a friend I am regularly invited to join them on forays into the deep blue, a privilege that never fails to impress and delight. Their natural knowledge of the sea and how to exploit it is extraordinary and I would always trust their weather forecasting above all out hi–tec systems.

"Arry", one of the village elders, whose advice is regularly sought, amused me recently when I asked another Gypsy friend, "Kung", "Why his advice was so sought after when his answer was always the same" ie. "cha, cha, – take your time, – no hurry, – think about it". The serious reply had me falling about, "No no, he exclaimed, when the tsunami came he told everyone to "leo leo", meaning hurry hurry or quick quick!

When the tsunami struck, many of the Gypsies longtail boats were damaged or destroyed along with other "Thai" boats. The authorities compensated the Thais but sadly the Gypsies, as usual, were overlooked.

It was only the intervention of a few groups of caring "ex–pat" members of the islands community that organised the necessary fund raising to refurbish their fleet. Other exceptions were the Phang Nga and Ranong gypsy communities who were helped by Christian organizations looking for converts.

When researching this article I found the Gypsies being described as "begging from tourists", a statement which I found unsettling as I have never been asked for anything which I didn’t feel they deserved by way of their own generosity to me, sure, they are poor but their nature is to share and be helpful. So please don’t compare the Sea Gypsies with their European namesakes, they are in a class of their own and proud to be Gypsy.

moray eel at the market in Rawai        Rawai sunset        sea gypsies trevally

Please click on the images for a larger view.

Although the Gypsies inhabited the island before the Thais, they have no rights to their land and with the continuing development in Phuket this small band of culturally important people are now under a real threat of extinction as every beach where they can safely anchor their small fleet of longtail boats is now premium development land.

Like all Monarchies, Thai culture is based on a hierarchy, thus the Thais, especially the upper class, view everyone "beneath" them as unimportant and exploitable and pay little or no regard to the importance of Phuket’s cultural heritage especially when dealing with the demise of an "inferior" race.

From a sight seeing point of view, the Gypsy Village definitely does not have the glamour of our many other attractions but these beautiful people are number one on my list of must do’s.


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