ISDSI Films: Voices from the Village

Keeping Alive Urak'lawoi Traditional Knowledge

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.


The Adang Archipelago is in the Andaman Sea, in the South of Thailand off of the west coast of Thailand. Development is quickly overwhelming the local resource base, as the small island of Koh Lipe is seen tourism and development explode. First evicted by the creation of the National Park, the Urak’Lawoi on Lipe have been pushed further away from the sea by development.


The Urak’Lawoi communities of the Adang Archipelago are a key part of our Oceans course, and students sea kayak and camp during the course, retracing the traditional patterns of migration in the archipelago.

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Fall Semester: March 15 |  Spring Semester: October 12

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