Taninthayi Region, the southern tip of Myanmar, abounds with water, forest and mineral resources. Kawthoung in Taninthayi Region is also well known for the minority Salon (or) Mawken (or) Sea Gypsies living on the islands.
They were believed to have inhabited Malay Peninsula and now are living on the islands in Myeik, Bokpyin and Kawthoung townships. The Malay people once called them Oranbesin while the Thais called them Chaunan in Thai language but the Salon called themselves as Mawken.
The Salons do not live in a place permanently and they live just on the waves with their kabang, boat-houses, hunting the fisheries.
Their lives were mostly spent on the waves and constructed temporary tents on the shore only if they had to shelter from the storm in the rainy season. Now, they concentratedly settle in a certain village. The Salon are adept at swimming and diving and they can dive up to 80 ft for 15 minutes without any scuba gears.
Their religious faith is nat (spirit) worship. Dutar-nat is a noble one to them and Katoy-nat is evil spirit.
They usually hold nat pwe (spirit festival) for Katoy-nat yearly after Thingyan festival to call on good fortune. The nat mentor plays a key role in holding the festivals. The Salon offer paddy, corn, alcohol, honey, betel quid, duck blood, chicken, dolphin and sea turtle to the nats according to the instruction of nat mentors whenever someone is sick or dead in addition to the festival.
The qualification of Salon man is determined based on his ability in making kabang boats, exploration of underwater resources and prediction in the flow of sea water and oceanography while the Salon woman is based on the search of fork, mat weaving and amelioration in marriage.
The Salon people have no specific clothes and they usually wrap longyi and htamein around their waist. In the cold season, they just put another longyi and htamein on their body.
The Salon women used to leave their upper bodies bare in the past and now they wear the clothes in accordance with the trend. They prop their child on the hip while they are working. They like wearing the shells of sea snails.
The Salon people go and search fish, squid, snail, oyser, pearl, sea cucumber, hard corals, Ambergris, turtle eggs, bird nest and honey in the fine weather especially in winter and then they dry them to sell for their keeps.
The Salon people do not accept to make love affairs before the marriage. If the boy and girl are in love, they let thier partents know and seek permission to allow their marriage. The bridegroom has to secure the permission of the parents of thier bride-to-be fronting presents or clothings. Then, they hold wedding ceremony successfully. Some elope when the parents do not agree thier relationship. The eloping culture is also strange. If the boy goes and takes the gril from a boat docked at the beach or the boy can run over the stern of girl’s boat, the parents do not seperate them anymore. It is such a strange culture.
The tradition of their funeral is also unique. If someone dies, the family members cry only for a while and then they dance and sing drinking alcohol. They believe that such doing will ease the attachment of the dead person. If the dead person is man, the body is burnt when the tide rises while the body of woman when the tide falls.
In the past, the dead body was put on the shelf together with their possessions on the beach. According to the beliefs of ancient Salon people, the island will suffer misfortune if someone die and so all the people leave from the island after the funeral occasion.
There is no specific literacy of Salon people and they usually play drums made of the stem of tree and skin of monitor lizard. Currently, they use the water barrels and aluminium as drums. They like signing and dancing although they do not have their own traditional dance. But their melody is similar to the songs of Malays.
They do not like strict orders and regulations. If they are forced to do something, they quickly move out of that area. But now, they understand social harmony and can live well in the society.
The Salon people can be found only on the Zar Det Kyi Island, Lampi Island, Nyaung Wee Island, Jalun Island, Kyone Kalat village of Bo Cho Island and Done Island of Kyunsu township and La Ngan Island of Bokpyin township.
Currently, other nationalities reside in such villages for business purposes and so the living standard of Salon people becomes high and they can live well in society.
Some people pursuade them to use drugs to buy thier catch (fisheries) unfairly to thier own advantage. So, many Salon people die while some become addicted to durgs. The race of Salon is nearly to be extinct as the Salon women marry to other national race.
Only the Salon peole can dive for a long time without any external breathing appratus and they also know the sea and marine animals well without using modern technoloy in the world. They never think to leave the sea and they are such a simple guys with no greeds.
So, everybody should pay a visit to Taninthayi as not to miss the Salon (or) Mawken (or) Sea Gypsies when the officials revive the tourism industry in the post-COVID-19 period.
By Kyaw Soe (Kawthoung), Translated by Khine Thazin Han