The Sea Gypsy Village in Rawai

   Sea Gypsies at Rawai Beach

Coming from the "Rond Point de Chalong", the long four lanes named Thanon Wiset, stops abruptly against the sea...

We really feel like we are at the end of the world.

By advancing a little on the pontoon of Rawai we can see on the left, a whole series of fishing boats (long tail boat).

They are those of a small community called "sea gypsy village".

 The small village of Chaoleys, the "Gypsies of the sea"

The "gypsies" of the sea threatened by the tourist boom

They have lived facing the Andaman Sea for generations and do not see it any other way. However, Thai "gypsies" from the sea risk being driven from their lands by the inexorable advance of tourist complexes.

With the creation of marine nature reserves, the decline of fish stocks and the frenzy of construction, the "Chao Lay" or "people of the sea" are finding it increasingly difficult to perpetuate their ancestral traditions.

One example among others of the pressure on indigenous minorities in a country that saw the number of tourists reach a record high of 22 million last year.

"I was already living here when it was the jungle," says Nang Miden, 78, sitting outside his shack in Rawai village, where some 2,000 sea gypsies live.

His ancestors had appropriated this language of land on the island of Phuket long before it became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the kingdom. "I have nowhere else to go."

And the fight to stay is going to be a complicated one. Many Chao Lay can neither read nor write. The concept of ownership is foreign to them. They were therefore unaware that they could register the land in their name and many of them now have no title to it.
As a result, others have rush into the rift. A real estate developer has thus become the owner of the land on which he lives, and wants to move several families inland.

Descendant of people living near the beach, now covered by an uninterrupted series of buildings, Nang is threatened with expulsion.
Last February, the courts ordered seven families to leave. They have decided to appeal, in a procedure that may take years. Meanwhile, almost all of them live without running water or electricity.

Gradually, every characteristic of their existence is threatened. Once nomads, selling fish, sea cucumbers and other ocean resources, they have settled in recent decades and face threats of arrest and seizure of their boats while fishing in national parks.
"Children of the sea"

Not to mention the tensions with divers who sometimes sabotage their traps. "The places where we can work have become smaller and smaller. Whatever we do, it's not okay," says Nirun Hyangpan, a representative of the Rawai community.
But despite their increasing exposure to the modern world, Chao Lay still maintain their indissoluble link with the sea. Some people say they can't fall asleep without the sound of the waves.

"These people need a waterfront area where they can moor their boat and go get food. It's not just spiritual, it's their way of life," says Narumon Arunotai, an anthropologist at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Even if traditional fishing brings back fewer and fewer fish, "they still feel like children of the sea".

Giving hope to the Rawai community, the government decided to analyze old aerial photographs and bones collected in the area.
"If it is true that they have lived there the longest, they should have more rights over property titles," says Prawut Wongseenin of the Department of Special Investigations at the Ministry of Justice. But "to win their appeal, they need scientific evidence".

Even in the water, the Chao Lay are in danger. Unscrupulous contractors pay them to fish with dynamite and the compressors and pipes they use to stay below the surface expose them to fatal decompression sickness.

They represent only about 12,000 people in three distinct ethnic groups (Moken, Moklen and Urak Lawoi). Some stateless people do not have access to healthcare or public services. And the school assimilates them into the dominant Thai culture, ignoring their own roots.
In 2010, the government passed a resolution to protect their way of life. But that will not be enough.

"If tourism continues to explode with more hotels, spas and resorts on the beaches, the lifestyle of the sea gypsies will continue to disappear," Nirun says in despair.

La dépê - 06/06/2013

The boats of the Gyspys... and their children swimming...

... and then the small market that takes place every afternoon around 2:00 p.m.