Probably, in the main season a considerable number of tourists come here. It’s just a little bit out of Phuket town and maximum 30 km, but a “world”, away from one of the most visited beaches in Thailand and the modern hotels.
But today we are alone, the only European people, farangs, in the sea gypsy village at Koh Siray connected via a bridge to Phuket town.
When we enter by car and acknowledge that it would be better to park outside a friendly man selling brooms helps us to turn the car. Some women and men are lying under the houses which are built on stilts, piers that are not looking really safe. The houses are – let’s say – rather huts, or better somehow covered spaces – with a mixture of materials the gypsies may have found somewhere.
Thailand has three different ethnic groups of Sea gypsies and they adopt their way of life as marine nomads. They don’t have any written language and have their own religion. Even they settled, their life is outside, not in the houses.
Fishing is their main income source. Development on Thailand’s beaches and islands and fishing restrictions in national park waters have forced the once-nomadic sea gypsies to settle. As a culture with little sense of ownership, the villagers’ rights to live on this prime beachfront land, which they don’t own, are constantly under threat.
We walk through the village and they all are very friendly. Women with children in their arms are inviting us to take a photo. They show us how they collect and fill mussels in small bags, some men let us see how they built fish traps, hand made. Some others just sit together and talk. There is no hurry. Somehow it is even depressing and we ask ourselves what these people may think of us. They do not try to sell anything. But they all smile. Someone tells us that there is a gypsy king who loves cutting boats out of wood, long tail boats. We do not find him. In the middle of the village there are two different houses, apparently much richer. Is this the gypsy king’s? Who knows.
We meet the broom man again. I’m fascinated by all these brooms and by a particular coconut spoon, too, which he has put in his vehicle. I ask him if he sells it. He does.
They seem to be poor, even disordinated, chaotic if compared to our standards. Someone will describe them even as lazy and just low educated people. Ok, they don’t know five languages and don’t go for meetings … There are a lot of children. The health status? I think critical. Many women are overweight. A man has open wounds at his leg.
But they are very friendly, open hearted. Maybe even happy. And very human. Emotional driven.
The destruction of this culture has begun already. The more tourists will come here the more it will change and have impact on their lives. If it is good or bad – I don’t know. However to describe the gypsies as an ‘attraction’ – in some guide books they are described as such – is not fair. It is humiliating!