This time it was not a tsunami but a fire, which took everything the Moken owned. No one was injured, but the village burned completely to the ground. “It is worse than after the Tsunami”, said Moken Suriyan Klathale, “because after the Tsunami one could at least search for missing things”

Sunday evening, the 3rd of February, the sun has set. Children play in the sand between the houses, while inside the cole-stove is lit as dinner is being prepared. The houses are built on stilts, allowing the Moken to stay in the shade under the houses during the day, to find shelter from rain during the monsoon months and also to do various works under the house. So too this Sunday. A Moken man repairs his gas-filled boat engine under the house. When he started the engine, it exploded. The houses in the Moken village on Surin are made of natural materials and built by the residents themselves. Bamboo adorns the floors and walls, and the roof is made of dried nippapalm leaves. Within five minutes the entire house is on fire.

The last month has seen little rain and the weather was hot and dry. Two days ago, the annual north wind started, which pleasantly cools the nights, but also blows strong. So the fire was carried quickly through the dry wood and within no time it jumped over the roof to the next house.

When the Moken abandoned their life on the house boat to settle in the bays, the group of sea nomads split into two village communities. The 2004 tsunami swallowed up both villages, but left both communities intact. The Moken call the tsunami laboon, which means “the wave that cleans the beaches”. Since the Moken had no more lodgings, the local government tried to drive the Moken out of the National Park and resettle them on the mainland. However, the firm roots of the Moken, intimately connected to the sea, did not allow for this resettlement. The compromise of the National Park was to allow the Moken refuge in one single bay (Big Bon Bay) and thus both villages merged. Within the new village, the Moken have maintained a large open space between the two original village communities. However, as the space they are allowed to use in the bay is restricted by the National Park, the 65 houses on the right side of the village were built closely together in three rows, the roofs almost touching one another. The flames could thus spread quickly and within only thirty minutes all 65 houses were on fire. The village community saved itself in the water and to the left half of the village, which, thanks to the open space, was spared.

Fire at the Moken Village on Surin

Women and children were evacuated to the neighboring island, where the administration of the national park has its headquarters, and accommodated them in their tents for the night. The news was quickly spread to national media via Facebook and on the same evening, various speedboats made their way to the Surin islands. Some boats carried family members of the Moken, who worked on the mainland and wanted to join their families, others transferred governers of the province, as well as food and clothing. Just like after the tsunami, the Moken had lost no one in this disaster, but again lost all their possessions.

Interviews with some Moken reflected the frustration due to this situation, but also showed their natural positive attitude towards life. A glimmer of hope spreads through the community, that the rebuilding of the village will give them more land – maybe even another bay, said Suriyan Klathale.

Donations for reconstruction are welcome and necessary. See below.

Any donations will go directly to the community and are delegated by the head of the village, who at the moment is not only concerned with his community, but also represents at national level the interests of his people for greater freedom of movement within the bays of the National Park.

The Moken now face an uncertain relief process. We are facilitating a Moken-led fund to address the most urgent needs of the community and the long term recovery process. 

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