“In the case of this large fire, we should not see this as an opportunity to forcibly take away any rights of the villagers. We must not forget that this is the home of the Moken people, who have been here longer than the park. Thus, as it’s their ancestral home, they should have the right to have a say in how construction of new housing is planned. New housing should allow them the right to health, safety, and stability in line with their way of life; for example, allowing each house to have direct access to a stretch of the beach where they can leave their wooden boats.
“In the past, Moken people used to live in small bays and harbors spread out along the islands of the Andaman sea, but were swept up and forced to live all together in one place. This lead to the congested conditions they lived in prior to the fire; so, we ought to expand the area in which they are allowed to live. They have been here longer than any of us, but their rights were essentially seized away and they were forced to live in one location; I see no reason why we can’t better accommodate their needs going forward. I have spoken to the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on the phone, and urged him to call a meeting to allow the Moken on Surin Island to state their needs and concerns before we rush to rebuild everything.
“All sides involved in the matter should be invited, not just high-ranking officials of the national park and Ministry of Natural Resources and lawyers privately discussing it.” The committee member also stated “the most important thing is to convince the administration overseeing this effort to fulfill their duty to respect the rights of the people involved, because there is no law that gives the government power to dictate the lives of ethnic groups who predated the government that are living on their ancestral lands.”
The committee member also made the case that Moken people are not simply people who are waiting for others to help them. They should be seen as being worthy of honor and respect, just like any other people in Thailand. The Moken people who suffered the ordeal of seeing their village burned down should be given some opportunity to expand their village. They shouldn’t be left in constrained housing conditions, tightly bundled together, and treated as if they are poor, weak people who are not allowed any power over their current situation.
Mr. Suriyan Klathale, a Moken from the Surin islands, states “reconstructing the houses as they were originally built after the 2004 tsunami may not be enough, as the population on the island has increased; some one-family houses have 2 or 3 families. Those of us living there are also unaware what the new construction plans will be, as no one has asked us, and we haven’t had the chance to ask any officials involved. We hope that in the least, if they do build the houses using the same plan, that they can at least not be directly facing each other, as it is a bad omen according to our traditional beliefs to have houses laid out this way.
“To be honest, the beach where the fire happened has enough space for 20-30 additional houses to be built and laid out farther apart, not facing each other. Unfortunately, the national park has not agreed to permit access to the entire beach, and its unclear whether we will even have all of the area on the beach that we previously had, which could make things even more congested.”
Ms. Suni Tairod, professor at Rangsit University and former the Boardmember of the International Relations Faculty, said, “in our society, it’s a very clear rule that we should help indigenous populations in times when they are struck by disaster, especially in events like the (2004) tsunami. We should not only help the Moken to rebuild, but to realize that we should also help them to further their development as a community. Thai citizens, and the state itself, should be happy and willing to provide assistance to the diverse communities that live within our Kingdom. The response and outpouring of donations has been amazing.
“We should, however, avoid oversimplifying the matter by not bothering to accept or understand the cultural values of the Moken people we hope to help. If we don’t understand the victims of this incident, we may be endangering their future. Most importantly, we shouldn’t forcibly remove them from their ancestral home. Each step of the restoration of the village should also restore the culture of the Moken people. The relief process has to be consistent with their traditional values, and we need to realize that we limit their ability to be self-sufficient without them having rights of citizenship.”
Mr. Mitree Jongkraichak, of the Network of Tsunami Survivors, stated, “the rebuilding of the Moken homes lost to the fire is an opportunity to work toward restoration of the Moken lifestyle in accordance with previous agreements. It’s not that this process is simply one of designing and building the same houses, it should be one that encompasses the true tradition and culture of indigenous people. The Chief of the Committee on Indigenous Affairs should call a meeting with the people as soon as possible; because restoration efforts like these are their direct responsibility, and they should undertake these matters from a basis of proper understanding of the community’s needs.
“Reports also should call attention to the National Park’s duty to properly survey the area, and to ask questions of different people in the village. Right now, villagers don’t know what the new layout will be, as they have not had the opportunity to ask questions, or consult with, those who will be building it. This has made everyone in the village worried that it will further infringe upon their cultural traditions and way of life.”
Mr. Ngui Klathale is one of the Moken on Surin who is acting as a response coordinator, and one of many survivors still looking for relief. Mr. Ngai stated, “I’m sad about losing gold piece I had saved; outside of this, 30,000 baht in cash burned in the fire, and when combined with other valuables, tools, et cetera, my total losses were around 200,000 baht.