Romancing the sea: A Moken’s life – giving strength

We conducted a cultural competence training for public elementary school teachers and personnel from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) a month after our LEAD Asia Community of Practice (CoP) training in Chiang Mai, Thailand in November 2014 where we watched the film “No Word for Worry.”

During our training, we used the six-minute film trailer as a springboard for the discussion on the issue of cultural destructiveness. There was a hushed silence as the participants watched Hook, the featured character scouring the seafloor deftly for what could not be known at first until he started grabbing fish and other food fare. Mesmerized by the spectacle of a moving figure swishing his way up and around the deep water, they oohed! and aahed! at every turn he made – skillfully dodging spiny corrals and parting the waters like a graceful danseur noble (or male ballet dancer) romancing the sea with the seafloor as his stage.

When the Moken started talking and calling the audience’s attention to cultural destructiveness, Hook’s lamentations resonated with them. Their sharing after the film viewing showed some sense of global oneness with the Moken.

We also showed the trailer to one of our IP communities – Agta/Dumagat. They had a different take. They were more animated as they watched intently as though Hook was one of them.
They were so proud that a movie about them (as IPs) becomes a centerpiece for cultural discussions. Not only did the film ably represent their plight with the many restrictions to their freedom in their own ancestral domains, it also gave them a feeling of hope that their voices could now be heard by like-minded empathizers and advocates for their continuous enjoyment of nature’s bounty.

The film also captured the IPs’ sense of roots when Hook mentioned about searching for his kin in other places. The tragedy is that governments (Burma, Myanmar and Thailand) set boundaries that curtail their freedom to move around their “boundary-less” territories. They remain steadfast in their belief that they are one with their ancestors who exemplify abundance and freedom (Hook’s reference to his father’s time) so that there is “no word for worry.” The indigenous lens expressed in this film is a lesson for the more dominant groups to only partake of nature’s bounties (in this case the food from the sea) leaving something for future generations. Hook says “the fishermen with big boats take everything; hence, nothing is left for others.”

The other issue is the Kabang (Moken boat). Restricting the Moken from obtaining the tree to build their Kabang which is their home is depriving them of their sustenance: where they eat, sleep, and socialize. Yet, they never uttered any word which begins with “if only…” thus making them unworried about what may befall them. In fact, the phrase “no word for worry” has become a byword among participants who think that the Moken are more fortunate to have accepted a positive outlook in life. Despite the Moken’s (or IPs in general) perceived “poverty” as seen by mainstream people, the latter has started to rethink about the wisdom of this destressing attitude and might as well embrace it. After the training, anything that stresses anyone has to think Moken and say “No worry”- there is no such word.

Bangka, an anagram for Kabang means boat in the Philippines. The Badjao who are the sea gypsies in Southern Philippines equivalent to the Moken take the bangka as their home. Thus, the universality of what IPs call home.

It is our ardent hope that the Kabang boat continues to prowl the seas as it carries the rich culture of the Moken people. This can only be realized if their right to their territories (the seas) and resources, specifically their access to the tree to build the Kabang boat will be recognized; after all, it is their right as indigenous peoples to practice, revitalize and transmit their cultural traditions and customs to the next Moken generation.

Marilyn L. Ngales
Director, Community Outreach and Service Learning (COSeL)
Lyceum of the Philippines University
Manila, Philippines

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