I was thinking all the way home from my dad’s house tonight about the Moken. I had just seen a documentary on 60 Minutes about this tribe known as the Sea Gypsies of the Andaman. They live in boats and on the small islands off the west coast of Thailand and Burma. Their live and die on the seas, spending as much as 6 months at a time on their boats. They can see twice as far as other people underwater, and can control their heart rates so they can stay underwater longer and dive deeper with no equipment. When the Tsunami hit, not a single Moken was killed, because they read the signs of the sea and the wildlife and had scrambled to higher ground long before the wave hit. The Moken who were in their boats headed to deeper water to avoid the wave. Burmese fishermen who were in the same area were killed when their boats were thrown into the air by the wave. The Moken said this happened because the Burmese were so intent on fishing for squid that they didn’t notice what was happening around them. They didn’t know how to look.
But what’s more impressive about the Moken is their language and culture, which influences the way they live and perceive. For instance, the concept of “when” does not exist in the Moken language. They have no word for it. Things just happen, and no concept of time is assigned. They also have no word for “want.” Can you imagine making it through your day without these two ideas that we use so often? The Moken don’t want anything. They use words for “give” and “take,” but without a sense of time, “want” is irrelevant.
These people live in the moment because that’s all they have. None of them knows or even cares how old he or she is. They just exist. They don’t have words for “hello” or “goodbye.” You can spend years with them, and then when you leave, you are gone. When you come back, you are there again. There’s something truly beautiful about that. It’s something that I’ll be thinking about for a while.