The name Moken comes from Austronesian speaking tribes who inhabit the coast and islands in the Andaman Sea on the west coast of Thailand, the provinces of Satun, Trang,Krabi, Phuket, Phang Nga, and Ranong, and of course the Mergui Archipelago of Burma (Myanmar) where you can see them living as they used to live for hundreds of years.
The Burmese call the Moken Selung, Salone, or Chalome.In Thailand they are called Chao Ley (people of the sea) or Chao nam (people of the water). They are the direct descendants from the Great Austronesian Expansion where people where pushed to sea by the ever-expanding Chinese groups about 3500 years ago.
The Moken are also called Sea Gypsies, a generic term that applies to a number of peoples in southeast Asia who live on the waters and are nomadic tribes that hunt on islands and below the water for food. This makes these Moken People amazing underwater divers and can stay under water for a very long period of time to collect the foods and animals underwater which they use to survive. Children are also to be found to be able to look underwater better than any other child but this feature is becoming a dying trend as traditional values and training are becoming forgotten due to the inbreeding with Burmese Fisherman and the Moken’s being pushed to live on the main land in the villages or on the Islands communities.
Moken people in the Mergui Islands are becoming a rare species as most of the original boats called Kabang, are being confiscated by the fisherman or destroyed by others. The ceremony of making the Kabang is a dying craft and organizations like Project Moken are helping the conservation of the culture and the traditions of the Sea Nomads.
Their day’s worth of ocean values can be eaten and a part of it is dried and then sold or traded for other goods they need to survive, although now it is difficult to compete with the Burmese and Thai fisherman who have more advanced techniques for fishing.
During the Tsunami disaster of 2004, many Moken people knew in advance of the danger ahead and climbed the hills with all their families and many survived the wave while others perished, but they also lost a lot of their valuables in the event.