News from the Sea Gypsy Village in Rawai
The new facade
Ahoy Me Hearties
Unheard of in my history fishing out of Phuket are these February squalls which, to my mind, are just another pointer to the climatic changes which are going on around us, and for the most part, being ignored. Just another sad chapter in the annals of human obstinacy!
I remember reading that, although the government was aware of world’s rising sea levels, they would like to assure the people that this would not affect the Gulf of Thailand. - Must have been a Trump supporter!
So now to stop me prattling on about the weather, how about the guys who introduced me the Andaman Sea?
The Rawai Sea Gypsies
It seems strange to me that such a valuable asset to Phuket’s tourist industry should not be better protected or at the very least compensated for their sub-standard living conditions, especially as so many others profit from their meagre existence.
Yes my friends, the Gypsies look to have won the battle against big business, even when they brought in the muscle and the threats. But now the village is being infested by tourists arriving on road choking buses.
The improved infrastructure of the village looks modern enough as you walk in but it’s all facade and f all else, the Gypsies who had little sanitation or drainage, now find their village overrun by commercial interests and all its disgusting side effects which only compound the previous problems and highlights the inadequacies of the authorities, who historically have been as beneficial to the Gypsies as a morale officer on a pirate ship.
Are we witnessing the demise of the Gypsies as another insidious form of takeover unceremoniously digests them into a corrupt, profit-led system they neither need, want nor understand, or is the “department in charge” the same one that said “The tide will not rise in the Gulf Of Thailand”?
The logistics of taking advantage of these mostly Chinese “Greenhorns” means that there is a very sizeable population of Thais, Indians and Chinese just working on emptying the tourist wallets. All the while the Gypsy Village gets invaded on a daily basis by rubberneckers and those freeloading carpetbaggers who live off the backs of the Gypsies’ reputation.
I used to drive my car right through to the back of the village, now Non-Gypsies are telling me “NO CARS” while they are selling fish at inflated prices, as people believe they were caught by the Gypsies and therefore by buying fish “we are helping them”, while the exact opposite is the case.
Hi again my fellow ofishinadoes.
March was a very poor fishing month, being in the hottest period of the year. Yes me hearties, fishing’s been as tough as trigonometry, with the high water temperature, (31C surface and 29C at 10 meters – normal 28C) and it was also suggested it was the spawning season for the Tuna as we could see them but rarely did they go for lures but this did not deter two members of the P.G.F.C. (Phuket Game Fishing Club). These intrepid anglers decided to go further afield in search of the “big” one and ended up at Bungsamran near Bangkok where they landed a 109 Kilo Giant Mekong Catfish only 8 Kilos short of the world record of 117 Kilos which was caught closer to home at Gillham’s Resort, Krabi.
Our pal Uwe, also looking for some sizeable beasties, took M.V.Hooker to the Andaman Islands and came back sporting a 100 Kilo Dogtooth Tuna among his other trophies, while M.V. Dorado on the same trip had to return on one engine and more than their fair share of electrical problems, hard luck guys, the Andaman Islands, while being the ultimate in fishing for our local boats, are always an extremely tough trip.
I see the Sea Gypsies are under fire again, for using their traps and catching reef and undersize fish thereby reducing the fish stocks. Who dreams up this nonsense? Obviously not someone who has been at sea, surrounded by commercial trawlers. Please- keep up to date with the plight of the Gypsies and their fight to keep their land in Rawai from falling into the hands of developers. They are part of the Island’s culture. Make your thoughts known as many now have “Save the Sea Gypsies”.
And how about yesterday, (Wed 17th) a quick glimpse as a big fish went screaming by my bar in the back of a pick-up WITH A POLICE ESCORT lights flashing, ME MAW – ME MAW. Consumed with curiosity and on further investigation we are led to believe 3 dolphins were washed up at the shore in Nai Harn. Two were released back to sea and the third had been injured on the rocks and apparently that was the poor beastie we saw screaming down Sai Yuan on the way to the Marine Biology Dept. at the Aquarium. Well done police and best of luck Flipper.
Last but not least:- Heard about the guy who put his boat in for repair? He was told the boat would be ready on Wednesday but unfortunately he was called away on business and when he arrived on the Friday, to pick it up, his boat was on the slipway, completely surrounded by wet cement. They had decided to repair the slipway, all but the part his boat was parked on, right in the middle. I have been advised there is a word in Thai for logic.
Tight lines to all.
Having read recent articles in the media regarding the Rawai Sea Gypsies, this month’s article is only vaguely fishing related, being about the plight of the people who taught me all I know about the Andaman Sea and still continue to educate and amaze me, The Rawai Sea Gypsies.
Many readers may have noticed that recently they have been receiving a very poor press for damaging coral and selling undersize fish. We are being told the damage to the coral is the Gypsies fault and the diminishing fish stocks are because they take undersize fish. NONSENSE !!!!
Firstly this is their ancestral home and they have stayed here, living off the sea, for millennia, prior to the environment problems we suffer now, and even before there was a Thai population on the island.
It does not surprise me that when their “prime” land is under threat from “money hungry” developers they are now being given a bad press in order to minimize their rights to to the valuable land which they have inhabited for over 200 possibly 2,000 years, an un-provable fact because unfortunately their language cannot be written and therefore they have no reliable records. Unlike normal Buddhists the Gypsies bury their dead and have a graveyard dating back around 250 years which I would submit is credible proof of their history in Rawai.
I personally have been offered some of the land they occupy by no less than three individuals showing 3 different Chanoots all covering the same piece of land that I was considering. Namely a large building just beyond the Rawai “Gypsy” Village which I wanted to develop into a dormitory unit for international university students who wished to study the Andaman Sea, the nursery of the India Ocean, as part of their Marine Biology course,
Having drawn a blank on purchasing the land / property which has been lying vacant for a considerable number of years I approached the Marine Biology department by letter, suggesting that they, with my assistance, take over the building and working in conjunction with the Gypsies use it as a residential block for students from all around the world to study their chosen subject. I never received a reply!!!
I thought environmentally was a excellent proposal, because, as I intimated in the letter :-
1. It would teach the Gypsies, and their many visitors, conservation and how to run a sustainable under sea environment while making them more financially secure, less vulnerable to exploitation.
2. It may also help to educate the diving population not to destroy their fish traps, which I do accept catch coral fish. But please remember the metal in the Gypsies traps lasts only approximately 5 months but the frame, made of Mangrove wood, is the basis of many of the local coral reefs. These man-made but natural hollow structures are colonized by the coral and are ideal for the protection of many juvenile corral species. The same traps, which divers destroy in the name of the environment while literary taking the food from the Gypsies mouths. The same tourists who cause more environmental damage, just by getting here.
3. If you are an impoverished section of society you make a living where you can and while I do not condone the deliberate destruction of coral, the guilty party is not the Gypsies but the company who paid them to make a meager living, while running away with a handsome profit by showing non-swimming tourists a walking tour of “one” of our many coral reefs.
4. To the Department of Marine Conservation I would say. “You cannot change the way the Gypsies operate as they have done for centuries by legislation, with similar laws and regulations that relate to the fishing fleets, which have an immeasurably greater impact on the coral and the diminishing fishing stocks.”
5. Why not educate the Gypsies to be more environmentally friendly. My proposal would keep the village as a major tourist attraction with The Gypsy Village intact as a “living” historical monument. The Gypsies could earn a living by looking after students, taking out investigational teams and finding samples, etc.
They might not be well educated but these beautiful people know the local waters and what is in it better than anyone on the planet.
6. Does anyone really believe the decline in fish over the past decade is due to the Gypsies? I think not, how about all the fishing nets the Gypsies and I have pulled onboard to save other vessels “speed boats” from damage, the same nets the diving companies clear from the coral at the beginning of every season plus all the bags and refuse deposited from the same source.
As well as being accused of destroying coral, under orders from their employers, the Gypsies they have also been accused of selling undersize and protected “reef” fish at their market. Is anyone seriously considering banning their fish traps which are the mainstay of the Gypsies financial and food source? To me all these accusations, at this particular time is an attempt to demonize the Gypsies when their land is under threat from powerful developers, to me the timing of this attack seems to be much more than mere coincidence.