Troubled sea gypsies ponder their future – Living Thailand

Troubled sea gypsies ponder their future – Living Thailand

Sea Gypsies

Sea Gypsies


Original article from The Nation newspaper February 11th 2016

Troubled Sea Gypsies are facing double trouble – from disputes on land and limitations in making a living on sea. It was revealed that 13 out of 21 sea gypsies’ lands have been encroached upon.

“We have to live in very crowded housing on a small piece of land; we face frequent threats from the land owner and have limited choices in earning a livelihood, as we can no longer fish freely like we used to do in the past,” Utai Lakko, an elderly Moken woman who lives in the Rawai Beach sea people community, revealed.

Another Moken woman Taew Sengbut said that after the tourism boom in Phuket, the seaside land prices increased sharply and it led to loss of land for the sea people along Rawai Beach, which once stretched from one end of the beach to the other. “Our community now is just a remnant of the old sea-people community of Rawai Beach. More than 2,000 people have to live crowded into a small area. Our homes are frequently flooded after heavy rains because the canal nearby fills up and we are cut off from the beach by several shops and restaurants in front of the beach,” Taew said.

“The worst pain is our spiritual land has been invaded and the land owner has blocked us from practising our beliefs and celebrating our traditional festivals,”

An academic report presented by the group revealed that many seapeople communities in five Andaman provinces are having similar problems as the Rawai community, as there were 21 sea people holy places identified and 13 of them have been encroached upon and only two have been registered as public spaces.

On the livelihood problem, Utai said most of the sea people, including herself, did not own a fishing boat anymore because the tsunami 11 years ago sank her boats and fishing equipment.

“We did not receive any help from the authorities to buy a new boat. If we want to go fishing, we have to hire a boat at Bt100 per day and we cannot fish near the islands anymore because they are preserved for tourists,” she said.

“I have to find the clams on the beach, which is not sufficient for everyday life, so I have to sweep the street for Bt250 per day,” she added.

In contrast to the past, she said when she was young, the community could harvest plenty of food from the land and sea freely and we could also practise our beliefs.

“I was born and grew up here. We lived by fishing in the sea and grew food on the land. We have lived here since our grandparents’ time and never moved anywhere,” she recalled.

Pleas to authorities

Utai and Taew were among 30 local aboriginal Malay Urak Lawoi and Moken people who came to Bangkok to submit their pleas to several official agencies, as their community was assaulted by group of armed men on January 25 because of conflict over land ownership.

The group yesterday handed a petition to Interior Minister and Social Development and Human Security Minister as part of its effort to fight for the right to practice its beliefs on sacred ground, cancel the improper registered land deed, arrest the group of armed men who attacked them and protect similar sea people’s holy lands in five Andaman provinces.

Meanwhile more than 100 sea gypsies also gathered at Phuket City Hall to wait for the authorities to come up with a solution on the land problems.

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Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Author: Josh at Asia Backpackers

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand. In Memory of one of Thailand’s Greatest Heroines 

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Monument to Ya Mo

When: Annually 23rd March – 3rd April 2016

Where: Around the Thao Suranari Monument between Chumphon and Ratchadamnoen Roads. Nakhon Ratchasima City-Nakhon Ratchasima Province

 How to get there: From Bangkok 

A little about Nakhon Ratchasima

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand. Also known by its colloquial name of Khorat (Korat). The province is ranked number one in land size and second in population in comparison to the 76 provinces that make up  the Kingdom of Thailand. The provincial motto is “Land of brave women and is best known for its production of fine silk material, Khorat rice noodles, Phimai Historical Park, and Dan Kwian ceramics”. 

What is behind the Festival Name

The festival name ‘Thao Suranari  is the royal tittle given to Khunying Mo, (later known by the locals as Ya Mo “Grandma Mo” – the festival is also known locally as the Yamo Fair) (or Lady Suranari – “the brave lady”) (1771–1852), she was the then wife of the deputy governor of Nakhon Ratchasima, the city was the main Siamese garrison for the control of the surrounding former kingdoms including parts of what is now Lao.


Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel ThailandThere a number of differing historical accounts of Lady Mo’s exploits leading to her royally bestowed title, what is known is that in 1826 the then king of  Vientiane King Anouvong invaded Siam, seizing the city of Nakhon Ratchasima. As was normal for conquering armies the Lao king enslaved the subjects of the city and forced marched them back towards his capital some 400 kilometres away.


Lady Mo is credited with saving her people. Varying stories describe her rallying the cities people to fight during the siege and either getting the invading soldiers drunk, or leading a rebellion of the prisoners on the way back to Vientiane.


Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

King Rama III



The generally accepted version is that, when the Lao invaders ordered the women to cook for them, Lady Mo requested knives so that food might be prepared. That night, when the invaders were asleep, she gave the knives to the imprisoned men. They surprised the Lao troops, who fled, and the prisoners escaped. Later the Thai King Rama III sent an army in pursuit, led by General Sing Singhaseni. He defeated the Lao forces in three days of fighting and completely destroyed Anuvoung’s capital city of Vientiane. (Taken from Wikipedia)


However history records this amazing heroine’s single handed exploits, she is still held in reverence by the Thai people who come from far and wide to pay respect to her memory and seek her spirits blessing during the festivities. Most of the events are held around the monument to Lady Suranari in the city centre. The monument was built in 1934 and holds the ashes of this remarkable lady.


Festival Activities

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Khorat Dance

The festival (billed as the biggest in Isaan) is filled to the brim with local cultural performances in song, dance and music, with the unique Khorat songs such as Phleng Khorat, played in the evenings. The song is a dialogue duet, singing tradition that has developed into a folk spectacle by the people in Khorat and traditionally uses only hand clapping with no musical instrument to accompany the vocals. Other songs such as the Phleng La (a farewell song) are sung with the accompaniment of a pi phat (click to hear the music) orchestra.


Local dancers will perform traditional Thai classical dance which  incorporates elaborate Indian hand gestures and body movements, believed to have been added by Mon and Khmer cultures. Folk dances are regional in character, with the individual dance styles associated with various ethnic minorities.


Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel ThailandAdded to this glorious mass of noise and colour are an array of shops and exhibitions, displaying and demonstrating local hand crafts along with a firework show, a traditional Thai Fair, a parade and of course a huge variety of street sellers selling a vast choice of succulent food and thirst quenching drinks.


While here in Khorat do take the time to see all that this wonderful province can offer from the splendid Historical Khmer parks of Phimai and Prast Hin Phanom Wan and the earlier relics from the Dvaravati period found at Mueang Semi, to the beautiful waterfalls at Kao Yai National park. Combine any or all of these with the above festival and you will not be disappointed.



Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Phimai Historical Park

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Khao Yai National Park

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand

Nakhon Ratchasima










Annual Events in Thailand, April, March, Month, North East Thailand

Thao Suranari Memorial Fair Travel Thailand





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