Kawthaung south Myanmar Islands

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Kawthaung & South Myanmar Sea Gypsies


This is Tanintharyi Division, the southernmost part in the country. A legendary stretch of land where the sea gypsies are living, making some money with pearl diving, fishing and collecting amber. Myeik, the former Mergui has a long history as trading point for Chinese traders and English plus Portuguese ships which anchored and restocked on the way from the west to the east.

During English colonial times ships of the British East India Company called at the city regularly on a trip from Madras to Penang Malaysia.

Now, what was the difference between these three nationalities, the Chinese paid or rather exchanged goods, the Portuguese exchanged metal things, and the Britons were, as usual with a distance the shabbiest, they paid the divers with alcohol and opium for the pearls, to make them addictive and thus to pressure prices.

The colonial marauders broke island societies and people just to bring the British crown and East India Company profit at the back of poor local people, who couldn’t help themselves because the Britons had much better weapons which they ruthlessly used to kill the locals. Here is the end of the Burmese coastline which is divided into two, the northern and the southern which is is from around Thaton to Kawthaung.

Before that time this area was Thailand it was taken by the English and afterwards became part of British Burma. The whole stretch of land from around Dawai or Tavoy a bit further north is home of the

sea nomads who lived here on the islands

  Myanmar Sea Nomads
Sea Nomads
Salone Sea Nomads

and on houseboats since time immemorial. The are the indigenous people of the lands and islands from here all the way to the south until Langkawi in Malaysia, this are ethnic Negritos quite different to Malay and Chinese and the same as on the Andaman Islands in south India.

Since about 1995 this area became famous for liveaboard diving trips out of Phuket Thailand since this is one of the last untouched places in the world because it was closed by the Myanmar government since after WW2. Now it is

The native island people living in this world are the "sea gypsies" or Salone, they have been very active pearl diver. The islands are more or less the islands of the Myeik archipelago all the way down to Kawthaung or Victoria point. This piece of land has a long history changing often between Myanmar and Thailand.

Also the colonial powers where very active here notably the Portuguese around Martaban and today Mawalamyine or Moulmain with plenty of beaches, islands for vacations and holidays and sea gypsies on the islands. The English were more focused on south Myanmar around Mergui, which is today Myeik and the archipelago. They had a thriving business in buying pearls from the pearl divers

native island people

which were the Salone sea gypsies of today in the country and further south in Thailand they call them Moken, Salone are the native people of the Andaman Sea, starting from around Myeik via Kawthaung, along the Thailand west coast and all the way down to Malaysia. A substantial village of them is also at Ko Lipe in the Tarutao Archipelago.

Kawthaung native island people salone sea gypsies

Salone are not avaricious

They do not consider their own house on the island where they live during the rainy season. It can be used by others. There will be no dispute as to the ownership of the house, when Salone return in the next rainy season and happen to know that the

Salone Sea Gypsies
Salone Sea Gypsies are the inhabitant of the Myeik Archipelago and coastal communities and islands at the Thai coast until Malaysia one of
Makyonegalet village in Kawthoung Township
their bigger villages is Makyonegalet.

house has been already occupied by others. When their properties are deprived there will not be a dispute as to the ownership. They will just give away to others who take them. They have such an attitude because they need not worry for their living as long as seas and islands are in existence. Although they take alcoholic drinks and get drunk they never commit a criminal offence. They do not like to be commanded or strictly disciplined, they prefer to live in a free and open society.

Matriarchy in olden times, Salone used to live under matriarchy, this can be found in some groups till today. Woman who have born many offspring without a loss is highly respected. Makyonegalet village in Kawthaung Township is an abode of Salone Tribe. Its name was derived from a Salone woman whose name was Ma Kyone. She had lived there as a head of the group for many years.

Inheritance, when a son set up his family and lives in a separate house, he is given a boat and fishing instruments by his parents. In the case of a daughter, she is given ornaments and jewellery and foodstuff. When the parents die, eldest son distributes the properties to the younger married sons and daughters. If unmarried sons and daughters are left, the family property is administered by the eldest son. The distribution of legacy

Myeik island beach

is made by the eldest son giving preference to the younger brothers and sisters. In the case of inheritance, wife of the eldest brother has no right to inherit. Adopted sons and daughters have equal right share the legacy as natural sons and daughters.

Traditional Wedding in Salone life, engagement before marriage is a very important one. For engagement, the groom has to look for a matchmaker or go-between.

Salone believe that death comes according to god's will. When a man dies, the family members used to wail only for a moment. Then, they take to alcoholic drinks, singing and dancing and beating drums. Family members and friends of the death take alcoholic drinks to alleviate their pains.

They perform dancing and singing for the death just to forget his death. They sing the songs relating to the evil deeds of the dead just to cut off the attachment with the dead. Male corpses are buried at the time of rising tide and female corpses, at the time of ebb tide.

In the past, Salone believed that an island where a family member died was seemed to be unlucky and they fled from the said island. The corpses are not buried in the ground but they were put on the bamboo-racks near the edge of the sea. When the head of the

At Kawthaung City
South Myanmar
South Myanmar is a very neglected part of the country, there is not even a road connection Kawthaung to Myeik in the north it needs to take the ship or aircraft.

Kawthaung Ferry
Kawthaung Hotel
Kawthaung Hotels are not top notch but they reflect the environ and the possibilities the people have who come with the ferry.

Kawthaung Immigration
Kawthaung immigration was rebuilt in 2010 replaced by a wooden structure on piles, recently (2012) partly destroyed by a storm.
Kawthaung living




Myanmar Islands
South Myanmar Islands are mainly in the Myeik or Mergui archipelago and down to Kawthaung.
South Myanmar Island Beach
family died, he is covered up with his Kaban boat which was broken into two pieces, along with his all belongings.

Nowadays, Salone bury the dead in the ground. A big rock is put on the burial mound of the elder male; a small rock, on the burial mound of the younger male. A big rock with barnacle, on the burial mound of the elder female and a small rock with barnacle, on the burial mound of the younger female and a coconut is placed on the burial mound of a child.

Almost all south Myanmar islands

are inhabited except at the coast sea gypsies or Salone are living at the beach and on the house boats. Usually this indigenous group live on houseboats, that’s the name sea gypsies is coming from, enter the interior of the Kawthaung and Mergui archipelago islands only for hunting and collecting food, fruits, vegetables and other.

Years after his death, his name was called out around the island of south Myanmar for three times. Very seldom foreigners came to visit the lost world in the Indian Ocean since most of the year there is rough weather, this part of the country is one of the  wettest places on earth since the clouds moving in from the Indian ocean empty their

water not only at monsoon times. Also at the mainland its low and flat with some forest-clad hills from time to time

Kawthaung Beaches and Salone villages

are along the shore of small bays with long reefs of coral stretch out seaward. House boats are anchored in the bays and some flimsy palm cottages are on the beach, people are very poor and almost completely live from the catch of the day and still today some dive for pearls. Those are very rare and some companies do pearl cultivation in big ‘pearl farms’ and there still are some peal diver doing the job.

Pearl divers lift the oysters with the precious stones up from the ocean surface, and the English gave alcohol in exchange to Salone who lived in this island world there since centuries. They sold the pearls also to Chinese traders who moved around in this area with their junks. Vegetation and geological formation of the Kawthaung area is similar to islands in the Andaman Sea and there are also no navigable rivers on the islands of the archipelago. The Chinese and their trading vessels were also gone when the English left Kawthaung and the country in general, the country went back into sleep again only today a couple of activities are on, as mentioned the ‘pearl farms’ and some tourist related businesses with live aboard

Beaches and Salone villages
Pearl diver
Pearl diving is still done by the Salone or sea gypsies but its slowly abandoned because the oysters are farmed in several "pearl farms".
Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea

sea gypsies
Sea Nomads of south Myanmar
sea gypsies Andaman Sea
Sea gypsies in the Andaman Sea

vessels coming in from Phuket Thailand plus the visa run Kawthaung.

They sail from Phuket to the north, passing the Similan Islands after the Surin Islands, where a group of sea gypsies or Moken are living, stopping at Kawthaung for border formalities and moving into the archipelago, this is a pristine scuba diving area since there were never other people excepts the Salone who had only interest in fishing and pearl diving.

Sea snakes and other submarine life show a rich underwater world in the archipelago, most is still intact under the water surface

Understanding the past

in this area here is some text of an old book describing the area in about the 18. Century actually not much has changed, the ship got engines, the pirates are gone and the buildings are made from bricks, that's the main difference. The ports of Indo-China and the islands have changed little with the centuries.

Mergui, about 300km north of Kawthaung, to day is much the same as before which resulted in rich marine life in southern Burma. This is not only true of the scenery. The ridge, the woods and the heavy greenery, the shimmering islands farther out are naturally the same. But the town itself has changed little. Its thatched and bamboo houses, winding streets, roadside bazaars and monastery stairways are still what they were in the seventeenth century.

The ridge round Kawthaung town

is clustered and hilly not high, hardly more than one hundred meters. On the highest point is a Buddhist pagoda, which by its design alone stamps the place as Indo-China, an art-integration distinct from India. The houses nestled into the steep hillside and looked towards the water of the harbor, which at full tide washed underneath the piles on which they were perched. At low tide there was an expanse of mud and mangrove Kawthaung is the most important harbor in the south of the country, it similar as with Ranong on the Thai side which is also the biggest harbor on the west coast of Thailand.

Marine life southern Burma
Marine life in southern Burma id very divers since the country was closed for many decades, 
 scuba diving is one of the most interesting activity today.
Kawthaung Harbor

gradually opening up but since there is no infrastructure on the islands, no hotels or similar it is not very attractive. It would be possible to stay in a beach cottage, needs some negotiations. If someone wants to explore and play Robinson its at best to take a local person with otherwise misunderstandings could lead to problems on this pristine islands and beaches of Myanmar or Burma in the Andaman Sea.

South Myanmar Islands
Andaman Sea at Kawthaung
South Myanmar Island Beach
South Myanmar Islands
South Myanmar Islands Village
Sea Gypsies Houseboat
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