Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

Field Project Assessment
A place for indigenous people in protected areas, Surin Islands, Andaman Sea, Thailand

Date of
18-23rd December, 2001.
Assessment completed, 17th April, 2002.
conducted by
Mr. Derek Elias, UNESCO-CSI, Paris (not closely associated with the project);
Ms. Narumon Hinshiranan, Chulalongkorn University (Field project leader);
Mr. Ajaan Jirayudh Sinthuphom, Chulalongkorn University (closely associated with the project). 

The assessment was considerably enhanced by the contributions of the following staff and students of Chulalongkorn University: Ms. Ajaan Thiranan Anawaji Siniwongsi, Mr. Paladej na Pombejra, Ms. Sukanya Sompiboon, Mr. Preeda Akarayantachote, Ms. Praputsorn Chansatitporn, Ms. Wipavee Patoompong, Mr. Jintapat Thammacote, Ms. Soimaas Rungmanee and Ms. Yaowalak Srisuksai. Additional work, complementary to the assessment, was undertaken by Ms. Arporn Ukrit of the Krabi Cultural Center.

  1. Report on stakeholder workshops held in 1998 at the National Research Council of Thailand, Bangkok 6 November and Surin Islands National Park, Phang-Nga Province November 21-26.

  2. School primer ‘We, the Sea People’ (Thai-English-Moken-Urak Lawoi) by Narumon Hinshiranan UNESCO-PROAP(Principal Regional Office in Asia and Pacific) and Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI), Bangkok, 2000.

  3. Summary report on resource assessment studies conducted during 1999-2000 (Thai) addressing population dynamics and migration, indigenous knowledge of sea resources, foraging techniques and ethnobotanical knowledge: Chulalongkorn University.

  4. Trail Guide to Hat Mai Ngam (Thai) by Narumon Hinshiranan featuring annotations on Moken use of plants and natural resources published with the assistance of Nissan –Think Earth project, UNESCO-PROAP and Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute, Bangkok, 2000.

  5. Indigenous People and Parks: the Surin Islands Project’ Coastal Regions and Small Islands Papers 8, UNESCO Paris 2001.

  6. Field Project Summary (March ’01) 

  7. First Project Assessment (March ’01)  

  • Meeting with Mr. Maarten Kuijper UNESCO-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission/Westpac, Bangkok.

  • Preliminary discussions of the project assessment and field visit arrangements were held with the project leader Ms. Hinshiranan at the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute. Staff and students from the Department of Speech Communications and Performing Arts, who would be accompanying the field visit, were introduced.

  • Travel to Mu Koh Surin Islands National Park Headquarters.

  • Inspection of Hat Mai Ngam trail information displays and comparison with the trail guide document.

  • Interview with Mr. Thon Thamrongnawaswasti, Faculty of Fisheries, Kasetsart University.

  • Interview with Mr. Sompong Jeerarareunsak, Superintendent, Surin Islands National Park.

  • Visit to Sai Ane Bay, Ko Surin Nua (location of inhabited Moken village), Fisheries Headquarters and Suraksawadee School.

  • Interview with Ms. Sudarat Meethong, schoolteacher.

  • Interview with Ms. Heidi Shuttenberg, Fulbright Scholar visiting

  • Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai.

  • Visit to deserted Moken village on Ko Surin Tai.

  • Visit to Moken shrines, burial site and village at Sai Ane Bay, Ko Surin Nua.

  • Visit to Moken encampment on Ko Surin Tai across the narrow channel (150 metres wide) from the Park Headquarters on Ko Surin Nua.

  • Final visit to Moken village at Sai Ane Bay.

  • Preliminary discussion of assessment and revision of future activities with Ms. Hinshiranan.

  • Circumnavigation of Ko Surin Nua and inspection of shallow reefs.

  • Departure from Ko Surin and onward travel to Krabi, Krabi Province with Ms. Hinshiranan and Ms. Soimaas Rungmanee.

Complementary assessment activities: 

  • Meeting with Ms. Archa Srikurt, handicraft teacher and weaver, Krabi, accompanied by Ms. Arporn Ukrit of the Krabi Cultural Center.

  • Travel to Ko Lanta and visit to two Urak Lawoi villages (Hua Laem and Sang-Ga-Au) with Chulalongkorn University postgraduate anthropology student Ms. Yaowalak Srisuksai.

  • Meetings at Chulalongkorn University to finalise assessment with Ms. Hinshiranan (students Mr. Paladej na Pombejra and Ms. Yaowalak Srisuksai) and Mr. Ajaan Jirayudh Sinthuphom.  


Arrangements for the visit were excellent. There were two minor constraints:  

  1. The relocation of people from the village on Ko Surin Tai to a temporary encampment opposite the Park Headquarters.  The move was precipitated by a recent death, increasing easterly winds and a slight rise in the number of villagers employed at the Park Headquarters. This made communications and meetings slightly more difficult.  

  2. A rise in employment levels made it difficult to meet with middle-aged men who were at work during the day.

Field Project Assessment

The sixteen characteristics, used to define ‘wise practices’, are used here to assess this field project.  A qualitative scale is used as follows:

None  (0): The field project activities to date do not comply with this characteristic and/or the characteristic is not relevant.
Slightly (1-3): The field project activities to date have begun in some preliminary way to satisfy  this characteristic.
Partially (4-6): The field project activities to date have gone some significant way towards fulfilling this characteristic.
Fully (7-9): The field project activities to date have gone the full way to complying with  this characteristic.  

This assessment is based only on the activities undertaken to date, and does not include those planned for the future.  

Have the project activities ensured long term benefit?  

Partially (5)

The Ko Surin National Park was established in 1981, and is administered by the Royal Forestry Department through the National Parks Act (1961). Under this legislation, settlements, other than those of the Park authorities, are prohibited in Parks as is the exploitation and extraction of natural resources. However, because the Moken people had permanent settlements in the Park before it was established, and considering that they do not hold official Thai citizenship – which would have allowed them to be resettled elsewhere in the country - their presence in the Park is tolerated. Continued dialogue with the present Park Superintendent and academic researchers regarding the project has helped pave the way to a better understanding of the way of life of the Moken people and their need to secure a sustainable livelihood on the islands.  

The project objectives are essentially long term and while some progress has been made, further efforts are required to ensure tangible results. Long term benefit for the Moken of the Surin Islands necessitates securing their right to occupy land and waterfront, use resources and ensuring meaningful involvement in the operation of the Park.  

Do the project activities provide for capacity building and institutional strengthening?

Partially (4)

The project activities are contributing to capacity building by beginning to change the attitude of the Park authorities towards the Moken, through workshops, interaction with visiting students and researchers, and informal discussions. Another factor relates to the limited ability (due to language constraints) of the Moken people to negotiate through official channels, such as with the Park Superintendent. Efforts have been made by the current Superintendent to provide employment opportunities for the Moken in programmes such as egg collection and hatching during the turtle nesting season. Another positive development is the increasing interest and support of researchers and professionals (e.g. doctors and dentists) in making their expertise available to the Moken. However, the real challenge remains to develop appropriate dialogue and mechanisms to address the relationship of the Moken with the policies and management of the Park at the level of the Marine Park Division of the Royal Forestry Department.  

Are the project activities sustainable? Partially (4)

To date, all the activities have been, to a large extent, dependent on the advocacy and patronage of the field project leader, Ms. Narumon Hinshiranan. She is one of a handful of people who can effectively communicate with the Moken and has developed a very close working relationship with them over a number of years. Yet, the sustainability of the activities is also in large part determined by the approach and attitude of the Park Superintendent who holds a very important position as regards the Moken on the Surin Islands. The present incumbent of the position is due to leave mid-2002 and there is a need to formalise arrangements and relationships between the Moken and the Park authorities so that there is not a major interruption of communication each time a new Park Superintendent is appointed. 

Further postgraduate research work with the Moken is being undertaken by students from Chulalongkorn University. Awareness of the predicament of the Moken has been raised considerably during the course of the project activities and will continue through exhibitions, radio interviews, articles and the plans for development of a website.

Have the project activities been transferred?

Partially (5)

One of the project activities, the production of the school primer on the Moken way of life, has been transferred to other sea tribes in the Andaman Sea (Moklen and Uruk Lawoi). As a result of Ms. Hinshiranan’s participation in a seminar in Batanes, Philippines, there has been considerable interest in the primer. The need to transfer project activities to other indigenous people’s communities along the Andaman Coast is being investigated by Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute and UNESCO.  

Are the project activities interdisciplinary and intersectoral?

Fully (8)

The project activities involve several different disciplines: environmental and social sciences, culture, education and communication. They also involve several different sectors of society: government officials, the Moken, researchers, students, and visitors to the Park. There is a real opportunity to raise awareness among these visitors regarding Moken ways of life on the Surin Islands and their circumstances within the National Park.

Do the project activities incorporate participatory processes?

Partially (4)

In Thailand the participatory process is rather uncommon. In consultative workshops, the Moken people tend to use intermediaries such as Ms. Hinshiranan as their advocate. Moreover, in such meetings, the majority of government officials demonstrate a high regard for the hierarchical system and are unlikely to oppose the views/statements of their superiors. Academics have greater freedom to voice their opinions, and as such are often used as intermediaries by government officials to voice particular points. Thus the project has had to develop appropriate techniques of communication and participation by organising separate as well as combined consultations for different groups. One of the greatest obstacles is the absence of any non-governmental organization (NGO) or experienced Moken representatives who could contribute to stakeholder dialogue and raise broader issues.  

Do the project activities provide for consensus building?

Partially (4)

At the briefing session ‘Commitment and support towards Moken sustainable development’ held at Kasetsart University, Bangkok in 1999 there was general agreement among the participants that the Moken should be allowed to continue to live in the Park, even if the law dictates otherwise. The challenge remains to build on this consensus and to find ways to reconcile the different interests of the Park on the one hand and the Moken people on the other. The project activities seek to find a foundation for consensus building, which is thwarted by linguistic barriers, administrative procedures and the absence of Moken representatives experienced in negotiation.  

Do the project activities include an effective and efficient communication process?

Slightly (1)

Ms. Hinshiranan, who is based in Bangkok (a considerable distance from the Surin Islands), can only spend limited time on the project. She remains the driving force for discussions between the Moken and the Park authorities. Direct communication between the Park authorities and the Moken is limited. Often the Moken voice their concerns to the fisheries officials, who do not always relay them to the Park authorities. In many ways the Moken remain uninformed about the activities of the Park and communication between the two parties, when it exists, flows in the direction of the authorities to the Moken rather than vice versa. Although there are a number of Moken who can communicate effectively in Thai there is little opportunity, and no forum, for them to do so effectively.  

Are the project activities culturally respectful?

Partially (6)

All activities to date have taken into account the traditions and culture of the various stakeholder groups. The challenge that remains to fully satisfy this characteristic is to further develop the role of Moken input into the project. Such an approach needs to take into account identity formation, cultural/linguistic maintenance and improvement of communication skills in Thai. Of equal importance is the issue of allowing the Moken to develop sustainable economic livelihoods.  

Do the project activities take into account gender and/or sensitivity issues?

Partially (5)

There are many widows in the Moken community, since the men’s work is hard and risky, and they are more susceptible to substance abuse. The widows have few ways to earn an income. The project supports handicraft work by the widows (as well as men), by buying their products and trying to find suitable markets. Further training is needed, particularly in improving the quality of the craft products, which will raise their market value and also require less raw materials (pandanus), a concern to the Park authorities. The ability of the men to produce staple foods economically is hampered due to the fact that they are forbidden to harvest traditional staple resources such as trepang (sea cucumbers), which are protected by law.  

There is a need to address gender and cultural sensitivity issues. These issues have not been raised since the stakeholder meetings were held in 1998. An appropriate time for another meeting might coincide with the appointment of the new Park Superintendent in 2002.  

Do the project activities strengthen local identities?

Slightly (3)

The project activities seek to strengthen the Moken’s ethnic identity and promote pride in their cultural heritage. However, it is going to take a considerable time to realise this goal. Future activities, such as issuing the Moken with identity cards, will guarantee their local identity as native residents of the Surin Islands.  However, this is a complicated issue, as the Moken need to be able to continue to travel across national borders visiting relatives and using their traditional territory.  

Do the project activities shape national legal policy?

Slightly (3)

The 1997 Thai constitution calls for strict enforcement of laws that are concerned with natural resources, including the National Parks Act, under which the Ko Surin National Park was established. This law (as described under the ‘long-term benefit characteristic’) prohibits settlement within national parks as well as the exploitation and extraction of natural resources. Changing the legislation is not the goal of this project, but seeking pragmatic solutions that will shape the implementation of the law is one of the goals.  

The new Thai constitution has been passed by Cabinet, but the Law on Community Forestry is still under debate. This law proposes community-based resource management, but there are fears in some quarters that protected areas may be declared community forests and that some communities may be pressured into bargaining this resource away. The State will guarantee the rights of local communities, and policy decisions will not remain exclusively with the Royal Forestry Department. Even if this law is adopted, the situation of the Moken will remain unclear as they are not Thai citizens. The numbers of Moken are too small to shape national policy but avenues should be explored to address their situation along with other sea tribes.  

Do the project activities encompass the regional dimension?

Partially (4)

This project has a somewhat unique regional perspective in that many of the Southeast Asian Sea tribes move between Myanmar and Thailand with little regard for political boundaries. The problems created by indigenous people residing in protected areas, under the Royal Forestry Department’s jurisdiction, are not unique to the Moken. Indeed the Moken receive relatively little attention because of the small population and the fact that they do not raise issues of national importance as do hill tribes in the north of Thailand. The lessons learnt in this project have the potential to be transferred to other areas. In January 2002 the Marine Park Division of the Royal Forestry Department requested copies of the CSI publication (CSI Papers 8) and the school primer produced by the project, to be distributed to marine national parks throughout Thailand.  

Importantly, the Moken exist on the geographical and political peripheries of Myanmar and Thailand. The Moken’s lack of political leadership and representation and relatively small population (approximately 200 on the Surin Islands and 3,000 overall) make it difficult to place the project activities at the National Park within the regional dimension. This is compounded by the fact that the local situations of other indigenous sea peoples, vis-à-vis interaction with marine parks, are within very different social, economic and political circumstances.

Do the project activities provide for human rights?

Slightly (3)

The project activities are centred upon the right of the Moken people to make their home on the island and to use its resources for their livelihood provided under Articles 22-25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, since the Moken people at present have no rights to live on the islands, there is a long way to go. It is hoped that the Park authorities will continue to allow the Moken to live in the Park and thus acknowledge this basic human right* to freedom of movement and residence within the area.

* Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

This question of human rights in the trans-border case of the Moken is complicated given the possible imposition of travel restrictions in the event of identity cards or citizenship papers being issued. There will of course be many other serious consequences to consider.

Have the project activities been documented?

Partially (6)

The project activities have been fully documented in English (see list at the beginning of the summary). However, there is a pressing need to translate and provide information on the project to policy makers, researchers, NGOs and other interested parties in the Thai language. This is critical as one of the major objectives of the project is to communicate with these key stakeholders and decision-makers regarding the place of the Moken within the Surin Islands National Park.  

Have the project activities been evaluated?

Fully (9)

The present project assessment and evaluation is the second such exercise and builds upon the earlier assessment (completed 29th March 2001) undertaken by Mr. Maarten Kuijper UNESCO-IOC/Westpac and Ms. Gillian Cambers, University of Puerto Rico, based on site visits conducted on 15-16th December 2000.  

Synthesis of main issues from the assessment 

  1. The scope of the project needs to be expanded in terms of the involvement of stakeholder groups as well as Chao Lay communities living beyond the Surin Islands.  
  2. The project should develop a permanent forum for dialogue between the stakeholders.

Revised Future Project Activities 

1. Proposals to expand project activities: 

Determine the feasibility of expanding certain elements of the project under the UNESCO-LINKS (Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems) cross-cutting project. Investigate the possibility of incorporating elements from previous draft proposals concerning the reinvigoration of the oral traditions of the Andaman Sea tribes and the Coastal Zone Management project developed by the Danish Cooperation for Environment and Development for southern Thailand.  

Document the re-construction of a Moken boat.  

2. Specific activities with Moken:  

Continue and build upon the dialogue between the Park authorities and the Moken via Ms. Hinshiranan and identify and involve other intermediaries, such as Moken representatives from the two villages who might become spokespersons. 

Discuss direct contributions to the Park that may include the provision of permanent signs and media presentations to be used by the Park authorities for tourists to raise awareness on the Moken’s use and occupation of the Surin Islands. 

Conduct a vocational training workshop to enhance the Moken’s ability to produce good quality handicrafts based on their traditional skills, patterns and techniques, and to provide for the proper storage of the handicraft products. Investigate marketing and distribution of the handicrafts.

Evaluate the usefulness of the school primer that is about to be released; assessment forms have already been prepared for distribution. 

Finalise arrangements for one-day inter-school exchanges between children from the adjacent mainland provinces of Phang-Nga and Ranong and the Moken children during the turtle nesting season on Ko Surin between November and February.

3. Information dissemination activities: 

Publish ‘Indigenous People and Parks: the Surin Islands Project’ Coastal Regions and Small Islands Papers 8, UNESCO Paris 2001 in Thai for distribution to government departments and agencies. 

Finalise a second contribution to the ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum’ on the contribution of the private sector (Nissan Car Manufacturers) to the project. 

Design and establish a dedicated website for the project to include the report on the consultative workshops, a summary of the initial resource assessment studies and all other project documents in English and Thai.

4. Research activities:

Analyse the pros and cons of Thai citizenship for the Moken people and related issues in consultation with national authorities and international agencies such as UNESCO. 

Conduct additional resource assessment surveys of certain over-exploited edible fish species and sea cucumbers. These surveys will be conducted by university students using carefully designed protocols. Previous assessments produced some conflicting results due in part to non-standardised methodology.

Introduction Activities Publications Search
Wise Practices Regions Themes