Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Day the Gentle Sea Gypsies Defeated the Globalists

     During the Great Tsunami of December 26, 2004, the Moken people were directly in harms way. Unlike 150,000 other people living along the coasts of the Indian Ocean, however, they weren't killed. In the aftermath of the tsunami, when disaster capitalists swooped down like vultures, stealing the lands of survivors, the gentle Moken held onto their land.
    How they survived and how the Moken, unlike countless other peoples, avoided being victimized even after becoming victims holds lessons for all of us.
     I first learned of the Moken people a couple of years ago, when I was researching mermaids for a literature course I was teaching. They're often called the "sea gypsies." In the languages of Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia, they're called "sea people."
     The Moken are an Austronesian ethnic group living along the Andaman Sea. Many of them claim no nationality and live in small houseboats for most of the year, stepping onto the land only once in awhile. They know so much about the sea that marine biologists, climatologists, and other marine scientists are still learning from them.
     Often, their children learn to swim before they learn to walk. Making their living from the sea, they can hold their breaths underwater longer than almost any other ethnic group on Earth. They also have better underwater eyesight—even in salt sea water—than almost any other ethnic group on Earth.
     Many other Moken live along the shores of countries in the eastern Andaman Sea, either in villages on the coast or in villages positioned on stilts above the sea. Unlike most other Austronesians (such as the Polynesians, Melanesians, Micronesians, Taiwan aborigines, and others), the Moken are shy about tourists.
     On the morning of December 26, 2004, the earthquake struck the region with a power equal to 23,000 Hiroshima bombs. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center would become aware of it eight minutes. By that time, the tsunami was only sixteen minutes from making landfall.
     All along the coasts of the Andaman Sea, the tide suddenly rushed outward, away from the land, leaving fish flopping on the shore. All along the Andaman coasts, people hurriedly scooped up fish by whatever means they could. Residents and tourists alike were thrilled by this curious event.
     The Moken—the sea people—saw this event in a more ominous light. They had heard the old stories. This phenomenon told them that the sea had not eaten in a long time, and it was hungry.
     Moken led the way to safety. People who followed them to higher ground survived. Those who didn't listen were killed.
     The Moken village in Thailand, like the villages of other peoples all along the Indian Ocean, were completely wiped out. National governments all along the coasts of the Indian Ocean promised disaster victims that they would eventually be allowed to return to their lands. In the meantime, they were instructed not to try to return.
     It was all a lie, and the Moken knew it. The truth is, all over the Indian Ocean, special concessions were given to land developers, and armed security guards were posted to prevent people from returning to their homes to rebuild. Just as the Moken survived because they knew the sea, the reclaimed their land because they knew the government.
     In her book The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein describes how the gentle Moken took matters in hand and saved the day:

     “They marched past the armed guards on the payroll of developers, tools in hand, and began marking off the sites where their old houses had been. In some cases, reconstruction began immediately... The most daring reinvasions were performed by Thailand's indigenous fishing peoples called the Moken, or "sea gypsies." After centuries of disenfranchisement, the Moken had no illusions that a benevolent state would give them a decent piece of land in exchange for the coastal properties that had been seized. So, in one dramatic case, the residents of the Ban Tung Wah Village in Phang Nga province 'gathered themselves together and marched right back home, where they encircled their wrecked village with rope, in a symbolic gesture to mark their land ownership,' explained a report by a Thai NGO. "'With the entire community camping out there, it became difficult for the authorities to chase them away, especially given the intense media attention being focused on tsunami rehabilitation.'  In the end, the villagers negotiated a deal with the government to give up part of the oceanfront property in exchange for legal security on the rest of their ancestral land." (link)

     Other disaster victims—those who trusted the government's promise of new homes—lost everything they had. This scenario was a template for Hurricane Katrina victims, victims of the Haiti earthquake, and even victims of the 2008 Financial Meltdown.
     The Moken showed us the way. There are almost seven billion people on this planet and a comparatively tiny minority of disaster capitalists, globalists, and other robber barons. We outnumber them by about a million to one. If we're united, they can't stop all of us.

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