Call of the Sea Gypsies

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The Sea Gypsies

Adjacent to the land is the village where Thailand's Department of Special Investigation dug up bones to test if they were Chao Lay remains, eventually concluding that they were, and that they dated from over 60 years ago. The Chao Lay do not own the lands on which their shrine and village sit, but they cite the bones of their ancestors as proof they have long occupied these lands and that they should have the right to remain.

Like the hill tribes in Thailand's north known as the Chao Khao or people of the mountains, they also face a struggle for recognition. Urak Lawoi fishermen in Rawai, Phuket. A good day's haul can fetch several thousand baht, but it has to be divided among the crew. Many Chao Lay have only in recent years been given Thai citizenship, which qualifies them for government-provided healthcare and schooling. There are still a handful without any citizenship. Thailand's notion of "Thai-ness" is a unitary one, based on commonalities like the Thai language and Buddhism.

The tribes speak their own tongues and practise their own forms of religion or spirituality, and are thus not widely regarded as Thai. Scholars have occasionally applied a new term for them: Thai Mai or new Thais.

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Above Mr Ngeem Damrongkaset, an Urak Lawoi, with old pictures of the first people in his tribe to get Thai identity documents. Mrs Tuenjai Deetes, one of Thailand's National Human Rights Commissioners who has been wrestling with the Rawai issue, said: "They are Thai citizens, but the owners of the land don't see them that way. As a measure of their marginalisation, in Rawai, of the 20 to 30 stalls in the fish market in the small lane that separates the beach from the huddled houses of the Chao Lay community, only two belong to the community.


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AAbove Mr Ngeem at the shrine in Rawai on disputed land claimed by a firm that wants to build villas. Only about 10 individuals in the community are university graduates, said Mr Ngeem, who is a former elected community leader.

My Week with the Sea Gypsies of Indonesia - Passion Passport

The Chao Lay were very much ignored as far as the rest of Thailand and the outside world were concerned, until the devastating Boxing Day quake and tsunami. Their closeness to the sea as artisanal fishermen meant they knew what to do when the water receded after the massive quake, minutes before the tsunami hit. Unlike the thousands of tourists who crammed the beaches of Phuket that fateful morning, the Chao Lay fled inland and survived. That brought more attention to the Chao Lay and their plight of being forced off their ancestral lands.

In Rawai, the Chao Lay are a small community of households, the majority of whom are Urak Lawoi and the rest Moken. They live in slum-like conditions on the margins of Phuket's tourism boom. The Chao Lay may have lived on this land for at least two generations, but it is owned by others. Government records show that its ownership has changed hands several times. The academic evidence is that these people had inhabited the archipelago with the Tausugs and other indigenous people for many generations before the arrival of Islam in the fourteenth century. On both sides of the Sulu and Sulawesi seas, these people are separated not only by the sea but also by the internationally recognised political boundaries of Malaysia and the Philippines.

The scanty research that has been done so far on the great seafaring groups of South-East Asia has shown that the Sama-Bajau travelled and migrated to various places of the far-flung archipelagos and even beyond; they followed the sea routes for economic and social purposes and guarded the passages through straits and past bights. In archipelagic South-East Asia, the number of distinct ethnic groups which rely on both land and sea for their livelihoods, for natural resources and to fulfil their spiritual needs are outnumbered only by the number of habitable islands.

And so it is with the Sama-Bajau, a landless folk who live in a physical landscape dominated by wide seas and bountiful islands. Hence their knowledge of the maritime zones and coastal ecosystems is encyclopaedic, they are superbly versed in the seasons, winds, currents and tides, the lunar cycle, stars and navigation.

Experience

They have specialised boat building knowledge and skills, and different types of types of watercraft are essential to the ways in which they interact with the marine environment. Where did the Sama-Bajau come from? Thanks to the careful work of ethno-linguists such as A Kemp Pallesen, their point of origin is thought to be the southern Philippines.

It is likely that around the beginning of the ninth century of the common era, speakers of dialects from which the language of the sea gypsies evolved lived in the area of the Basilan Strait between the Zamboanga area of South Mindanao and Basilan Island in the south-eastern part of the Sulu Sea. They grew in number and as they grew, and as their sea-faring technologies waxed, so did their ambitions, and these mariners nonpareil looked for new theatres.

Why kidnap sea gypsies?

Groups sailed away from this early period to look for and colonise, so to speak, new seas and by the eleventh century the Sama-Bajau were moving south-west through the Sulu Archipelago and then along the north-eastern coastal areas of Borneo Kalimantan.

From the eastern coasts of Borneo, they spread farther southward into the Makassar Straits, arriving along the coasts of Sulawesi and spreading outward into other parts of eastern Indonesia some time before the beginning of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That is when they met, perhaps with stories and a smoking pipe, the first schooners of the colonial powers, only to be greeted with muskets, fear and greed.

And from that unhappy encounter was the tale of the pirates of the Celebes Sea born. Aren't there more important and immediate things on our plate, like for instance, Trump's stance on climate change? Until recently journalists adhered to codes of professional and I went to a church before I did a temple and was none the worse for it. My best friend was the sweeper's son and he played better hockey Women in the higher education represent Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid visited the mourning majlis at Al Badee She has been working with the company for eight years.

The International Organization for Migration said the boat sank late Etisalat and du were instructed by the Telecommunication Regulatory Dubai traffic fines and black points: Complete list. World Cup Why reaching semi-finals looks difficult for Pakistan. Top Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan booked in cheating case. Since a film crew came to the Togean Islands three years ago to make this documentary, he explained, visitors have shown lots of interest in his village.

Rohani is the star of the film. The Togeans have diverse ethnic groups living on the 56 islands strung across the Gulf of Tomini.

THE SEA GYPSIES - EMBRACE THE WAY (BalconyTV)

Most Bajau have settled in villages that sit above the sea on stilts. There are more than 37 such villages and smaller settlements in the archipelago. Other major ethnic groups include the Pamona people on the two largest islands, Togean and Batudaka, and the Saluan people. As you cruise among the islands, you see many clusters of stilted houses, which are all joined by a long footbridge.

The Bajau language is widely spoken. The waters of the Togean Islands are plied by many tiny wooden boats, some supported with spider-like outriggers, many with single triangle sails. The fishermen work in the gulf, but often venture far out into the sea. The Gulf of Tomini is protected from harsh weather conditions. The only thing to disturb the calm are the flying fish, which regularly jump through the air, and dolphins, which can frequently be seen breaking the surface.

There are three types of coral reef in the Togeans: fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls. Fringing reefs, which hug the shoreline, can take up to 10, years to form. The barrier reefs can take up to , years to establish, and an atoll can take as long as 30 million years.

Divers and snorkelers encounter perfect conditions year-round and discover an abundance of marine species, including plants, fish and other sea creatures.


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The Togeans offer some of the brightest, clearest waters in all Indonesia; viewed from above, the colours of the water are extraordinary. Stephanie Brookes and David Metcalf with one of Bajau people. The forest-clad islands are the habitat of the babirusa, tarsier, Togean macaque and hanging parrot.