The Urak Lawoi, Chao Lay (or Sea People) is a group of people living in southern Thailand around the islands and coastal areas of the AndamanSea. Their villages can be found in Phang-nga, Phuket, Krabi and Satun. The Urak Lawoi has their own language and traditions. The Ethnologue report says that:
Urak Lawoi’ A language of Thailand
Population 3,000 (1984 D. Hogan). Ethnic population: 3,000 (2000 D. Bradley).
Region South, west coast, Phuket and Langta islands.
Alternate names Chaw Talay, Chawnam, Lawoi, Lawta, Orak Lawoi’
Dialects Aboriginal Malays who speak a unique Malay language.
The Urak Lawoi in Sangka-u Village, Lanta island, Krabi province There are 81 households, 93 families, 358 people in the village of Sangka-u on Lanta islands. There is also an elementary school and a joss house for worship. The people believe that worshopping the joss house can protect them from harm. There is one public house for community activities such as making a model boat for boat-floating ceremony, etc. Most people in the village are relatives. The bamboo-houses with galvanized iron or tiles roof are located very close to one another and there are no fences. The size of the house is around 3x4 meters. When the members of family increase, they will lengthen the house outward in the direction of the sea. Inland houses are built on small hills, but the front of the houses is seaward. These houses are built on 1-meter pillars. Ducks and chicken are raised under the houses. Most of these houses have balcony which serves as a living room for different activities, ranging from repairing fish-net to chatting with neighbors.
The Urak Lawoi houses have wide space for resting, eating, and watching television. The bedroom zone is separated by curtain or closet. Many households have electrical equipment such as televisions, radios and fasn. Ten families in the village have the refrigerators and 53 families (from 81 families) have television. The Urak Lawoi in Sangka-u use charcoal or gas stove for cooking.
The daily lives of the Urak Lawoi are simple. In the morning, the men go out fishing while the women do the housework and wait for their husband to come back around noon. Fish catch is both for family’s meals and for selling to the Tao Kae (the entrepreneurs). In the afternoon, Urak Lawoi women rest while the men fix fishing tools. Kids usually play around the community. Teenagers often go to their friends’ houses, chatting or listening to the radio. Urak Lawoi subsistence lifestyle is now changing. Most of them now need to work for wages to get more money. Therefore, in the daytime, only the elders and kids stay home. The rest go out for work.
Besides seafood, rice is the main staple for the Urak Lawoi. Normally, they eat rice with several dishes like Southern Thai food. Coconut is the crucial ingredient for making various dishes and desserts. For vegetables, they eat local vegetables or buy some from grocery stores in the community. The Urak Lawoi usually eats whenever they are hungry, so there is no set meal at a certain time. Normally, they have 2 meals per day, in the morning and evening. Factory-made snacks and instant noodle become a popular food after the integration to commercial economy.
In the earlier days, the Urak Lawoi believed that the cause of sickness came from spirits. They had local doctor (To Maw) who cured the sickness by incantation or using holy water. To Maw is the spirit medium, communicating between the Urak Lawoi and the spirits. To Maw are chosen by the elderly traditional To Mo to learn about spiritual curing. At present, the Urak Lawoi often goes to the hospital when they are sick. Sometimes they buy drugs from grocery stores. If they do not get better, they will go to the hospital.
There are 2 important ceremonies in the community: 1. Paying respect and giving offerings to the female guardian of the boat. It is believed that doing so will prevent the boat crew from dangers at sea. 2. Boat- floating is the most important ceremony for the Urak Lawoi, held biannual in May and October in order to remove bad luck.
Normally, people earn their livelihood by traditional fisheries. In the past, the Urak Lawoi caught the fish by simple tools for household consumption. At present, they need to adopt market economy in order to survive. There are 57 households which have motor boats. Many Urak Lawoi prefer working for a Tho Kae to being independent fishers because of convenience and security-related reasons. Working for a Tho Kae means reducing the responsibility of obtaining and maintaining the boats and fishing supplies. Allso, the Urak Lawoi grows coconuts, cashew nuts and some local vegetables on the hill for selling and consuming in the households. When tourism industry comes, some people go to work as unskilled labors to gain wage. From statistics, the average amount of money they earn per year is 36,000 baht.