Definitions

Seafarers

Seafarers

[see-fair-er]
For Seafarers International Union and affiliates, see Seafarers International Union of North America.

Seafarers can refer to ethnic groups living by the sea in Southeast Asia, and also other sea living ethnic groups in the world. The ethnic group name refers to a large distribution area along from the islands of Indonesia to Burma, which sometimes being group as Sea Gypsies.

In the South China Sea area, the ethnic group name is called as Orang Laut, which literally means the sea people in Malay. These malay peoples of Southeast Asia traced back the forefathers coming as far as Yunnan (now a province of China) some 5000-10000 years ago, they were seafarers that migrated along rivers such as Mekong and Irrawady to the Andaman Sea, South China Sea and various locations in the Malay archipelago. In the 15th century, large numbers of Malay Seafarers converted to Islam.

Along the west coast of Thailand and Burma, the ethnic group is referred as the Moken. Their knowledge of the sea enables them to live off its organisms by using simple tools such as nets and spears to forage for food. What is not consumed is dried atop their boats, then used for trade at local markets for other necessities. During the monsoon season, they build additional boats while occupying temporary huts. Many of the Burmese Moken are still nomadic people who roam the sea most of their lives in small hand-crafted wooden boats called Kabang, which serve not just as transportation, but also as kitchen, bedroom, living area. Unfortunately much of their traditional life, built on the premise of life as outsiders, is under threat and appears to be diminishing. The Sea Gypsies are a minority group that number only a few tens of thousands in Andaman Sea and Thailand. They maintain a nomadic sea-based culture and live almost entirely on boats and practice shamanic rites.

Other ethnic groups, who are often being grouped with the seafarers, are Bajau in the southern archipelago of Philippines, eastern Malaysia and Indonesia, and Urak Lawoi (the coastal dwellers of Thailand).

Recent maternal mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests that Polynesian seafarers, including Tongans, Samoans, Niueans, Cook Islanders, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Marquesans and Māori, are genetically linked to indigenous peoples of parts of Southeast Asia, including those of Taiwan. These two groups together can be called the Austronesians.

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