A feature-length experimental documentary exploring the culture of the seafaring Moken people of Burma and Thailand.
Ken = Water
Put them together and it spells Moken, the title given to a tribe of Nomadic people who live in the Andaman Sea in Thailand and Myanmar. They chose Moken due to their connection to the sea; it represents everything to them, even going so far as to refer to it as “Great Mother.” In Olivia Wyatt’s often engrossing and visually complex new documentary, Sailing A Sinking Sea, we are given an intimate portrait of the lives of the Moken people thanks to stunning footage and voice-over narration by various members of the tribe.
Hearing and absorbing the details of the Moken’s day-to-day life is the heart of the movie, from their beliefs and traditions to their rituals and origin stories. Much of what is shared focuses on procreation and gender roles, as it seems everyone in the community is taught their place at a young age. Like many indigenous tribes, the Moken people’s views of God derive from a variety of sources, and they also believe that ghosts constantly surround them. Punishment can be dealt by both the Gods and spirits, which helps explain the need for such a structured and disciplined life.
The biggest curiosity for me in Sailing A Sinking Sea is that the Moken people never reveal how they get their resources. Many of them wear t-shirts and swim trunks, they have water bottles and tobacco pipes, and to my surprise, given their primitive way of life, they even have access to television and electricity. What lingers most in my mind from the movie, aside from the camera gracefully following a hunter as he searches for food in the heart of the sea, are the songs we hear throughout. Experiencing the passion of the sea and its meaning through the voices of the Moken people is ultimately more powerful and lasting than any image could hope to be.