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Seafarers (ethnic groups)


Seafarers (ethnic groups)

An artist impression of Seafarers.

Seafarers are the ethnic groups living by the sea in Southeast Asia, and also other sea-living ethnic groups in the world and throughout history.

In Southeast Asia, this ethnic group name refers to a subset of people in a large distribution area, reaching from the islands of Indonesia to Burma. These groups are sometimes known as Sea Gypsies.

East Asia

In the South China Sea area, the ethnic group name is called as Orang Laut, which literally means "the sea people" in Malay. These Malay peoples of Southeast Asia trace their forbears to Yunnan (now a province of China) some 5000–10000 years ago. They were seafarers that migrated along rivers such as Mekong and Irrawady to the Andaman Sea, South China Sea and various locations in the Malay archipelago. In the 15th century, large numbers of Malay Seafarers converted to Islam.

Along the west coast of Burmese Moken are still nomadic people who roam the sea most of their lives in small hand-crafted wooden boats called Kabang, which serve not just as transportation, but also as kitchen, bedroom, living area. Much of their traditional life, built on the premise of life as outsiders, is under threat and appears to be diminishing. The Sea Gypsies are a minority group that number only a few tens of thousands in Andaman Sea and Thailand. They maintain a nomadic sea-based culture and live almost entirely on boats and practice shamanic rites.

Other ethnic groups, who are often being grouped with the seafarers, are Bajau in the southern archipelago of Philippines, eastern Malaysia and Indonesia, and Urak Lawoi (the coastal dwellers of Thailand).

Recent maternal mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests that Polynesian seafarers, including Tongans, Samoans, Niueans, Cook Islanders, Tahitians, Hawaiians, Marquesans and Māori, are genetically linked to indigenous peoples of parts of Southeast Asia, including those of Taiwan. These two groups together can be called the Austronesians.

See also

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