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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Improving communication and preserving cultural heritage / Surin Islands-Thailand.

Posted By: Narumon Hinshiranan
Date: Monday, 2 August 1999, at 3:35 p.m.

Key words: educational materials, Moken hunter-gatherers, national park, user conflicts.

DESCRIPTION: Several decades ago, a group of Moken maritime hunter-gatherers chose to settle down in the Surin Islands, a small archipelago about 60 kilometers off Thailand's southwestern shore. Due to their pristine marine and forest resources, the islands were declared a National Park in 1981. The Moken's subsistence, small-scale marine trade, and village settlements have since then been restricted under Park regulations. There has been a conflict of interest between the Moken and the Park staff. While the Park authority imposes restrictions on Moken resource extraction for the sake of environmental preservation, the Moken have to make a living by fishing and gathering marine products for their own consumption as well as for the local market in exchange for rice and other necessities.

A UNESCO-supported Andaman Sea Pilot Project has been launched to bridge the cultural and communication gap between the Park authority, the Moken, and other stakeholders. The management of protected areas like the Surin Islands needs to take into consideration physical and cultural needs of indigenous people and encourage sustainable living through their traditional ecological knowledge and stewardship.

During the first phase of the project, two stakeholder workshops were held as a forum for horizontal communication among island stakeholders. Workshop participants brainstormed to identify crucial issues leading to the goal of sustainable development for the Moken in the Surin Islands. In the second workshop, appropriate support and commitment was sought from each party to move towards Moken sustainable living and to cherish the Surin Islands as the shared natural heritage.

Promoting communication, exchange, and understanding among Surin Island stakeholders is a wise practice, and stakeholder workshops were the first step that brought together several parties who might have had conflict of interest in the first place. Now that all have shared a common goal of balancing between resource use and conservation, the next step is to work together to achieve that goal.

The second phase of the project involves several activities such as Resource Assessment Studies (Biological Survey & Traditional Ecological Knowledge Survey), Turtle Conservation Activities, Production of Slide Series on Moken's Life and Culture, Traditional Handicraft Training, and Production of Moken Primers.

One of the activities of this second phase is the preparation and production of Moken Primers or educational materials for Moken non-formal education. Although it seems like a small task -- producing primers to be used by the Moken -- it has far-reaching effects. It should also be considered a wise practice after being tested by the following criteria.

STATUS: The two stakeholder workshops facilitated communication and better understanding especially between government authorities and the Moken. The Park authority even expressed their hope that the Moken will remain a significant part of the Surin Islands, and eventually become active partners in National Park protection. Other stakeholders such as local NGOs, media, and academics also pledged their involvement in the future project activities. However, the activities in the second phase of the project have been postponed due to the wet monsoon season (May- October).


LONG TERM BENEFIT: The aim of producing Primer is to build working literacy for the Moken. The Moken have no written language and most of them are non-literate. At present, there is a one- room school on the island for Moken children. The children are taught to speak, read, and write Thai language. All the education materials are in Thai and written within the context of Thai culture. Therefore, the biggest challenge is how to provide education to Moken children without disrupting the passing on of traditional wisdom and knowledge. The Moken Primer will be a collection of short texts about Moken lifestyle, legends, art and craft, etc., so it will enable the Moken children and the adults to learn through their own language (written in Thai script with Thai translation) and their own cultural context. The knowledge of Thai language will promote better communication and understanding between the Park staff and other State officers and the Moken.

CAPACITY BUILDING AND INSTITUTIONAL STRENGTHENING: The Moken elders and adults will be key informants and major assistants in the preparation and production of the Moken Primer. Not only does it encourage the pride in their cultural heritage, it should also inspire the Moken to work together as a group and build a sense of community. The children will look up to the elders as significant cultural and spiritual resources.

SUSTAINABILITY: The Primer will contain stories about Moken traditional resource uses and nomadic/settlement pattern. Nowadays, the Moken still move their settlements from time to time to escape epidemics and to alleviate dispute. Periodic movement is significant for former nomadic groups like the Moken. It also facilitates local ecological recovery as foraging patches are allowed to revive. The Primer will then contains useful information for Park Management. For example, it should remind the Park Authority that an attempt to consolidate Moken villages into one settlement will definitely have negative impact on both the Moken and the local environment.

TRANSFERABILITY: The Primer will be tested in the Moken School as well as local Thai schools. Local Thai children will have a chance to learn about Moken life and culture through this Primer. There are ethnic hunter-gatherers in other parts of Thailand like Sakai in the southern forest and the Mlabri in the northern forest. Primers for those tribal children may be developed to promote the appreciation of indigenous cultures and language.

CONSENSUS BUILDING AND CROSS-CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING: The stakeholder workshops have already paved the path of consensus among those parties concerned. The Primer will not contribute directly to consensus building but will facilitate cross-cultural understanding. And understanding should eventually be the key to consensus building.

PARTICIPATORY PROCESS: The preparation and production of Moken Primer is a participatory process which involves the Moken (adults as well as children, as the illustrations used in the Primer should be drawings by Moken children themselves), Park Staff, Local Authorities, Local School Teachers and Students. Therefore, the final Primer will be the outcome of a real "team" effort.

DOCUMENTATION: The Primer also serves as a basic source of information about Moken lifestyle. It will be readable and accessible by the Moken and the Thai.


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