'Last of the Moken Sea Nomads' – A culture fallen victim to overfishing in Thailand

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For centuries, the Moken sea nomads have traveled the islands between Thailand and Myanmar fishing and foraging for food on the sea floor. Throughout the Mergui Archipelago, Moken migrate in flotillas of Kabangs (traditional boat of the Moken people), stopping at different islands and beaches. Expert freedivers, the Moken have adapted physically to an aquatic life, developing unique characteristics that let them see better and hold their breath longer while underwater. Today, however, under pressure from the Thai government, and unable to see a viable future after the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and rampant commercial overfishing, all of the Moken in Thailand have settled into villages. These villages are often places of frustration, where Moken, born at sea without birth certificates, are treated as stateless and struggle to find jobs or receive benefits from the government. Alcoholism and unemployment rates are high.

Recently, one of these Thai Moken traveled the Mergui Archipelago to the relatively undeveloped islands of southern Myanmar, searching for Moken still living traditionally. In his search up to the 11th parallel, he only found one remaining Moken family living on a Kabang. This family travels alone from island to island searching for areas not completely exploited by increasingly unsustainable fishing methods employed in Burma. They are likely the last family still living a nomadic lifestyle aboard the Kabang. The rest of the Burmese Moken have settled permanently, frustrated with the increasing difficulty of finding food and pressured by a government eager to capitalize on Moken culture to increase tourism, creating what some see as a 'human zoo.'

(Photographs and text by Taylor Weidman / zReportage via ZUMA Press)

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