Located on the small island of Koh Surin Tai live the ‘Morgan Sea Gypsies’ – a seafaring tribe that has a number of communities in countries around the Andaman Sea (particularly Indonesia where some believe they come from). Stemming from a long lineage of seafaring peoples, the Morgan have a spoken language called Yawi but, of course, use Thai quite freely.
They are genuine experts on the sea. During the 2004 tsunami, the elders of the tribe evacuated their village to find high ground before the waves began to strike. The only casualty was a handicapped boy who got left behind in the village. The Morgan’s have since rebuilt their community on another beach because they believe their original village is haunted by the young boy’s spirit. With colossal death tolls elsewhere in the region, the Morgan’s skills passed on through generations saved their lives.
Despite their expertise, the Morgan in Thailand are somewhat impoverished. Again, as with many traditional peoples, tourism has become a major part of their income. Visitors to their village arrive without announcement to greet women breast feeding children and men sleeping on the beach. As soon as visitors arrive they burst into action, putting mats on the sand so they can sell the handmade items they produce which have become so important for their survival. Like elsewhere in Thailand where tourism leads to visits to traditional groups, some feel uncomfortable visiting ‘human zoos’. If this is the case for you, avoid this trip.
During monsoon season the Morgan live in their boats and live on the land from December to April. They have an annual ceremony designed to make amends to the sea for everything they have taken from it during the year. Not all of their lifestyle is though based on tradition – the children of the village now go to school on South Surin Island and are becoming better versed in modern ways.
How to get there: Koh Surin Nua and Koh Surin Tai, are separated by a stretch of water only 200 metres wide. As a result moving from one island to another is fairly straightforward. There is a regular boat which leaves Koh Surin Tai for Morgan village, but easiest access is through one of the tour operators who organise tours to the islands.