SEA GYPSY: The Salon People of Myanmar

Who are the ” Sea – gypsy ” ?
Where do they live ?
Why are they unique ?
What are the reputations of these people ?

The ” Salon “of Myanmar, who called themselves, ” Moken “, are forgotten people who fight for their survival. They adopt their way of life as marine nomads. They are expert in swimming, diving and submerging in the sea —- and hence the names ” Sea – gypsy ” or “Men of the Sea” .



The salon can be found in the Southern part of Myeik Archipelago which has more than 800 small islands. It has been believed that the salon people had lived, in the ancient times, on the Malay Peninsula until the Malay incursion when they left their native places and lived scattered throughout the Myeik Archipelago. Now – a – days, the salon can only be found on the coastal islands around Kawthoung, formerly Victoria Point — the southernmost town of Myanmar.



The salons do not live on agriculture or farming, instead they roam in the sea near the coasts and pursuit on sea and marine products that they could obtain in their strange and various traditional ways. Their boat, made of light wood, are convenient and appropriate to go in the sea. Their customary way of living in the sea is extraordinary in that they take all the household things—- utensils, food rations and including dogs, cats and chickens —- with them on the boat.


During the hot and cool seasons, they survive their living by fishing, gathering and selling of natural marine products. However, during the rainy season, when the weather is strong and rough, they managed to stay slovenly on the nearest islands they could find. They built long legged huts made of bamboo, canes or anything that they could find useful for building huts. As their name, sea-gypsy, implies they are skilful in returning back to their islands, shortly, when they behold an unfavorable weather.


The cleverness and expertness of the salon in diving and submerging in the sea is incomparable. They could dive down to 8 -10 fathoms and stay for long time. They used to dive and submerge several times in a day. It is presumed that the salon are the only people who can stay underwater for many minutes without using oxygen tank.


They collect and trade marine products such as sea shells, oysters , mollusks, ambergris , seaweeds, pearls etc., as well as the edible nest of swifts (Collocalia spp.) honey and medicinal plants that grow on the island.

The salon nomads do not easily mix with other people. They do not participate in economic, social or even cultural development of the country they live in. Their society has different cultural values from those offered by modern society. They are locked in the value system that they believe to be their own.


The salon nomads still hold on their own beliefs. They worship two spirit gods – the good and the evil. Shamanism is the central element during the spirit festival. The devotional offerings, at the festival, include pop corns, alcoholic drinks, honey, betel and flesh and blood of ducks, chickens, dolphins and turtles. They used to sing at the festivals. The talent of the salon are very remarkable that they could sing songs at hand to the scenes, happenings and fact they see. One of their musical instruments is a drum made from monitor lizard (Varamas Spp.) skin.

The rites and rituals at the festival were done by the shaman, who involved not only at the festival but also during illness or at death. The salon do not bury the corpse, instead they left on a scaffold stand and all the people of the village move to another island.