When the 2004 tsunami struck, the Moken were saved by their knowledge of the sea. But a catastrophic blaze has exposed authorities’ errors in the rebuilding of their homes
Where stilted huts once stood on the white sand, now there are just charred remains. “This is worse than after the tsunami,” says Hook, a Moken sea nomad surveying the damage fire has wreaked on his former village home in Au Bon Yai bay, Surin island.
After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami destroyed the previous Moken settlement here on Thailand’s Andaman sea, Hook says people were able to recover some belongings. This time, when fire broke out on 3 February this year, nothing was left. Now the community fears for the future as the authorities begin to reconstruct the village in its original design, an unsafe housing model consisting of highly flammable structures, densely packed together. And it has reignited a row about the Moken’s rights to their ancestral lands.