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Meet the Urak Lawoi: Guardians of Ancient Seafaring Traditions


Urak Lawoi koh Lanta

"Urak Lawoi, which means 'sea people,' takes its name from 'Urak' meaning 'people' and 'Lawoi' meaning 'sea.'


In the early days, their way of life was deeply connected to the sea, with boats serving as their homes. They have settled in the provinces of Satun, Krabi, and Phuket. Their initial settlement was in an area known as 'Satak,' which we call Koh Lanta. Koh Lanta is often considered the heart of the Urak Lawoi community.


This community's unique way of life is closely tied to the sea. They've passed down cultural wisdom through generations, enabling them to use and conserve natural resources in a sustainable manner. An essential part of their culture is the 'Pla Jak Boat Floating Ceremony,' performed to ward off misfortune and send their ancestors' spirits back to 'Kununghirai,' believed to be their homeland.


In the past, the Urak Lawoi people lived in the Kununghirai mountain range along the coastal area in the state of Kedah (Sai Buri). Over time, they ventured into Thai waters of the Andaman Sea. In the beginning, they lived a nomadic lifestyle, using wooden boats as their residences and vehicles. They would use kayaks or thatch for shelter on the boats or create temporary shacks on the beach during the monsoon season.


Their survival depended on their skills in sailing around the islands, occasionally coming ashore to forage for wild resources. However, their primary source of sustenance came from hunting marine animals using simple tools like harpoons, prongs, and hooks. They possessed the remarkable ability to dive deep to spearfish, catch lobsters with their bare hands, and collect shellfish from the seabed.


Today, you can find the Urak Lawoi people settled in various locations, from Koh Siray, Rawai Beach, Laem La Nuea, and Ban Sapam in Phuket, to Koh Phi Phi, Koh Jum, Koh Pu, Koh Wai, and Koh Lanta Yai in Krabi province. They also inhabit Koh Adang, Koh Lipe, Koh Bulon, and Koh Rawi in Satun Province.


Their culture revolves around honoring their ancestors' spirits, and they believe in the influence of the supernatural on their way of life. The 'Tho Mor' plays a pivotal role in conducting various rituals, including the boat floating ceremony and vow-making ceremonies.


One of the most significant rituals among the Urak Lawoi people is the 'Ari Pajak' boat floating ceremony, held twice a year in the 6th and 11th months. On this special day at the beach, you'll find tambourines, songs, singing and dancing, and a range of festivities. It's a time of joyous celebration, as they come together to remove bad luck from their community and celebrate their important cultural traditions."


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