Project Urak Lawoi

Project Urak Lawoi it is fruit of fascination, admiration and gratitude to this ancient community, the Urak Lawoi.It is hoped that Project Urak Lawoi will help raise awareness of the Urak Lawoi people. Detailing their culture, the challenges they face in conserving their traditional ways of life that’s so naturally tied to the environment of the Adang Archipelago and the sea.

In 2005 Koh Lipe only had 2 computers with internet access and 2 grocery shops across the entire island with “The Walking Street” was just a narrow footpath. Sometimes we are not aware of the real damage that we, the tourists can bring to a new travel hot spot. Joining the global economy represents for all the tribal minorities, a huge risk to lose their identities, their traditions and their languages. The Urak Lawoi have already suffered the consequences that development has brought.

We need strong community support to speak out in favour of the Urak Lawoi and not allow those traditions to end up forgotten. With large doses of determination and commitment we’ll keep demanding sustainable solutions to cultural integration and preservation of the Urak Lawoi historical memory in the Adang-Rawi Archipelago. Through Project Urak Lawoi and involving both tourists and hotel owners, the goal of this is to inspire and generate enthusiasm about the Urak Lawoi people and their ancient traditions.

Joining Global Economy

Rapid changes in the Archipelago have completely changed Urak Lawoi traditional ways of learning. For generations children learned what they needed to know as families traveled together during the bagad, foraged for food, and lived at different sites in the archipelago. Rather than formal or informal lessons, young people observed and put into practice what they saw in the context of daily activity in the local environment.

Information was passed orally and certain types of information resided only with particular members of the community. It was traditionally common to see men over the age of 30 telling stories to a group of two to five children at time. Other knowledge and skills such as diving and navigating underwater geography could be acquired only trough intense and regular practice.

Indigenous Knowledge

They developed highly sensitive awareness of tides, currents, lunar cycles. local wind, wave patterns and seasonal changes that were needed to be successful on foraging and fishing expeditions. Through observation and practice they learned the habits of local marine species and how best to use them. With the loss of the bagad and their semi-nomadic lifestyle, the Urak Lawoi no longer have opportunities for everyone in the family to experience learning at different sites.

Competition with tourism also is felt in the demand for land, especially on the beachfronts where the Urak Lawoi traditionally built their homes. Land in their communities had long been held in common and everyone had access to resources needed for subsidence. The islands and sea had no market value and were not conceived as property. With the new concept of state-owned land, however, conflicts have been inevitable.

Park officials strongly discouraged Urak Lawoi from their nomadic foraging and campsites scattered across the Archipelago, forcing them to abandon their central tradition of bagad and become fully sedentary in a place where they had roamed freely for generations., it was not possible to implement the policy of moving people out of parkland, because the residents of Koh Lipe had land rights dating 1950’s, although these were largely self reported and did not always include a valid deed or title.

National Park

The National Park saw problems with trying to relocate the Urak Lawoi to the Thai mainland, it was hoped instead that the Urak Lawoi would become an asset to the park as tourism grew, providing visitors services, labor and cultural interest. They were allowed to stay or settle on Koh Lipe, subject to the park rules and regulations. Such development pressures on the Adang Archipelago illustrate clearly the national dilemma of choosing between the economic benefits of tourism and the need to protect the cultural and environmental heritage that gives national parks their appeal.

The livelihood offered by tourism has introduced a number of changes to the Urak Lawoi’s traditional way of life. Local people who used to fish and gather sea life now work in hospitality and service jobs, especially the young generation. This is one of the few options remaining to this people to earn income and contribute to a family’s survival.

The main purpose of Project Urak Lawoi is so that the local people can tell their story to the world and humbly try to help their community through small but affordable projects. Visit the Urak Lawoi website for much more information, including the history of the Urak Lawoi people, their latest projects and find out how you can help with Project Urak Lawoi.

Articles content and images courtesy of Project Urak Lawoi.