The islands of the Andaman Sea, on the west coast of Thailand have been the traditional home of the Urak’lawoi, semi-nomadic sea people. Living off of the sea, especially the inter-tidal zone and the rich coral reefs, the Urak’lawoi have a deep and profound understanding of their traditional home. But that way of life is quickly disappearing, as the Thai government evicts them from traditional homes, and limits the ba’kat — camping and moving from bay to bay in the islands.
The ecological position of the Urak’lawoi is complicated — while sustainable under low population pressures, traditional methods of trap fishing can be very destructive to marine ecosystem and reef health, as the need for money and market goods outstrips the ability of the reefs to recover. At the same time, the inability of the parks to recognize how local knowledge can help contribute to the conservation of this resource limits doesn’t allow the Urak’lawoi to move between sites, and the deep link between their culture and their ecosystem is being severed.
This story will be told through the eyes of Pi Jeang, a leader of the Urak’Lawoi, who grew up moving from site to site in the Adang Archipelago. Now a National Marine Park, Pi Jeang retraces the traditional places and ways of his culture, and the attempts the Urak’Lawoi are starting to take to conserve both their culture and ecology before it disappears.