The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Tag: burma

On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part III: The Shorebound Moken and the Plight of the Andaman Sea Gypsy.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

After over a week of dead-end slogging from port to port in Burma, I finally found a group of Moken living on an island near the Thai border. There were less than a hundred of them at the time of my visit, and though they were so close to shore and its modern facilities, they remained nationless with no political representation, no identification–that means no healthcare. Apart from generators and cisterns, they had gained none of the societal comforts that might be associated with moving ashore–and, in doing so, seem to have been forced to abandon old ways. This small village, for example, no longer has any of their traditional kabangs, the beautiful teak longboats designed for offshore sailing in which the Moken have been living and roaming in flotillas for centuries. The vessel above is a scaled down version of the kabang, the stone-aged Andaman Sea dugout longboat.

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A traditional Moken kabang, or houseboat. Image via Indigenous Boats.

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Fishing, like in other Andaman Sea communities during the monsoon season, is largely restricted to the tidal flats where crabs, small fish, sharks and bivalves are collected. Despite political oppression–or what may better be described as abandonment–these Moken seem to make out alright. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The elders of this village–formerly a flotilla–decided to move ashore about 15 years ago for healthcare and education, if not for themselves, then for their children. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Why move ashore? That was the first question I had. The general consensus among the handful of village elders I interviewed (with a translator) seemed to be opportunities like healthcare and schooling for children. The Thai government have begun to issue Thai identity cards, but unlike full-blown citizenship, they offer marginal access to state-run schools and hospitals. Further, the process is slow-going for any number of reasons; the Thai government, if asked, would state that it has much larger, more pressing matters to face, and tracking down the small but scattered population of Moken (estimated at around 2,000) living in and around Thailand and Burma is no small chore–to that, I can surely attest.

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‘We can fish, we can grow gardens, we can eat. But we can’t go to the hospital. We need identification.’ Photo: Owen James Burke.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part II: Boating Amongst the Slaveships in Myeik, Burma.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

A pale-gray haze lay over the port of Myeik, backed by a droning cacophony of outboard motors and dredges. Few were talking. Almost no one was smiling. The scene looked bleak, and the scarcity of the sun didn’t brighten the picture.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

But then almost all commercial fishing ports carry this tone. It was only later, in Thailand, that I came to realize how close to the edge of hell some of these people were living.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

With no permission granted from the government to visit the Mergui Archipelago where the Moken–a small, disenfranchised group of sea-dwelling ethnic Austronesians known in Burma as the Selung–are said to live, I had left Yangon for Myeik, 535 miles to the south where my travel agent–though she’d advised against it–suggested I might find a captain willing to sneak me out to meet the elusive virtuosos of the sea.

My flight had landed earlier that day and I’d caught a motorcycle taxi straight down to the port of Myeik, which I was told would be the busiest and therefore likeliest harbor for me to hitch a ride out to the Mergui Archipelago where the Moken are said to weather monsoon season.

I had no intention of spending a single night in Myeik–I’d already lost enough time in Yangon. It was still early in the morning, and as far as I could tell, the weather looked fair enough to set sail for open water.

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This Is Life in an Andaman Sea Village During Monsoon Season. A Photo Essay.

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One moment, the Burmese coast of the Andaman Sea looked like this, frenzied and white-horsed, with gale force winds and pelting–literally stinging–rain. The next, it would abate to the sobering serenity of still air and blue skies. All of this has no bearing on the people living in small stilted villages on the Andaman Sea, who make their homes and feed their children day-in, day-out, year-round, come wind, hail, rain or shine. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Watching these small narrow boats fade out on the horizon behind a line of squalls chilled my bones to the marrow. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The sound of the rain meeting this tarpaulin-tin city was tremendous. It hushed all conversation and jarred your concentration. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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But then, moments later, it would look like this, but regardless of the weather, tide or hour, these longboats seemed to be buzzing in and out port all day long. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Wish You Were Here: On a Boat Somewhere in the Andaman Sea, On the Way to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Several months ago, I visited the Burmese and Thai coasts of the Andaman Sea hoping to meet a nationless seafaring people of Austronesian ethnicity known as the Moken or Selung. I wanted to find out how they survive the monsoon months, when pelting rain and violent gales sweep across the Andaman Sea almost daily with little warning and no mercy. This would become one of those days.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part I: Yangon (Rangoon) and Dala, Myanmar (Burma). A Tale of Two Cities.

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Yangon (Rangoon), seen from Dala (Dalla). Photo: Owen James Burke.

I flew to Myanmar (Burma) to meet a group of seminomadic sea-dwelling peoples around the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea collectively known as “sea gypsies”. But that didn’t get off to a great start. First, I was hung up in Yangon, and what I encountered there was a far grimmer, more harrowing reality than the one I’d set out to find.

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The ferry terminal in Yangon. Photo: Owen James Burke.

I landed in Yangon (as the capital city of Rangoon is now known to modern-day, militarized “Myanmar”), during a monsoon where people were sitting in plastic chairs along the sidewalk dining in a river of mud and street grit, and despite recent large-scale urban development, the streets—even in the town center—were dismally dark by any city’s standard.

I must have spent three hours in a taxi on the way home from the airport, otherwise a 25 minute jaunt across the city.

After finding a hotel, I dried off and began to wander the streets, ankle deep in mud, runoff and grit. Taking each step, I felt as good as blind. High-rise buildings may have been going up, but it seemed like the sidewalks hadn’t changed since Orwell was sipping and spilling gin and tonics on them.

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The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) Is Heading to Asia to Rescue Rohingya Migrants in the Bay of Bengal

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Above: “An exhausted refugee rests his eyes before being brought on board the Phoenix in the Mediterranean.” Photo: Christopher Miller/Mashable.

The Rohingyas are a group of Muslims living in the Rakhine state of Myanmar (Burma), bordering Bangladesh. Effectively, they are a nationless people, and are considered to be among the most politically persecuted religious minorities in the world. Like migrants in the Mediterranean, they’re taking to the high seas in decrepit old vessels, and they need help.

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Wish You Were Here: Watching the Sunset Over the Andaman Sea

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

I can’t usually be found at the pool, but this cliffside hotel, which provided me my first real bed in weeks, had eight foot high barbed wire fencing discouraging guests from respiting in the mangrove-tangled beach below.

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Manda: Cyrus Sutton’s New Organic, Coral-Reef-Conscious Sun Paste

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Photo: Simple by Nature.

Each year, something like 5,000 tons of sunblock washes off swimmers and over coral reefs. Ingredients like Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, which are commonly found in mass-produced sunscreens (and as the FDA declared several years ago are inactive and effectively useless), blanket reefs and kill algae, thereby “bleaching” or killing coral too.

Using eight bio- and food-safe ingredients, surfer and filmmaker Cyrus Sutton has teamed up with a few friends to bring us Manda Organic Sun Paste (Kickstarter campaign launching October 1st).

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