Ethnic Groups Network Update

From May 30 to June 3, researchers from the Ethnic Groups Network project and the Ethnic Groups in Thailand Database traveled to Koh Lanta and Koh Jam, two islands in Krabi province that are home to many Urak Lawoi’ communities. The Urak Lawoi’ are an ethnic minority group; in Thailand, they are part of a larger group of ethnic minorities commonly referred to as Chao Lay, or “sea people.” Although traditionally, Chao Lay people have made their living by fishing, today their livelihoods and cultures are threatened by coastal tourism development projects and land rights issues.

SAC researchers went to Koh Lanta and Koh Jam to exchange with communities and to prepare for the upcoming meeting, “Practices for Influencing Policy on Safeguarding the Way of Life of Chao Lay According to the Cabinet Resolution from June 2, 2012.” The meeting will be held from July 11 to July 12 and will bring together representatives from the Ministry of Culture, the Provincial Advisory Committee for Safeguarding the Way of Life of the Chao Lay in Krabi, researchers from the SAC and the Chulalongkorn Social Research Institute, and Chao Lay community representatives from five provinces: Ranong, Phang Nga, Phuket, Krabi, and Satun.

Chao Lay communities are one focus of the “Special Cultural Zones” initiative, which was implemented in order to safeguard the cultures and livelihoods of ethnic minority groups in Thailand. Lidapan Janpimansuk, a researcher with the SAC’s Ethnic Groups Network project, said that during the team’s trip to Krabi, they observed firsthand the complex range of issues that the Urak Lawoi’ communities must confront. Many groups have lived in certain areas for decades, but they never acquired land titles or other ownership documents; now, these groups are being forcibly removed from their homes by development companies or by National Park officials, who claim that the Urak Lawoi’ have been illegally living inside national parks and depleting the parks’ natural resources. The Urak Lawoi’ and other Chao Lay groups assert that their relationships with the natural environment are ecologically sensitive and sustainable as well as crucial to their cultural survival.

By bringing these various stakeholder groups together in July, meeting organizers hope to initiate dialogue and to achieve clarity about the various claims and problems that community representatives and local officials wish to address. Janpimansuk emphasizes, “We can’t start talking about community rights or using that language until we establish a foundation of common concerns and mutual understanding among stakeholders – involved organizations need to recognize the value of the practices and knowledge of Chao Lay communities so that these practices can continue.”