This is the first of many blog posts about our recent trip to freedive with the Moken in Thailand.
Part of our purpose for our recent trip to visit the indigenous freedivers of the Andaman sea, the Moken, was to deliver a very large parcel of donated freediving and spearfishing gear.
The equipment was donated by freedivers and spearos from all walks of life and was intended as a gesture of friendship and support from one group of freedivers to another.
We started the Amnesty in August 2013 and in that time we received a great deal of excellent stuff, ranging from 100cm spearguns to swimming goggles, and it was all kit that would have remained gathering dust in people garages and sheds if it had not been sent to Thailand. Brands like Cressi and shops like spearfishingstore.co.uk gave generously.
After collecting kit for 6 months, we parceled up the majority of the kit in one massive 45kg box and fired it over to Phuket via courier, we took some of the larger items out with us on the plane. We believe that in total, if it had all been new kit, the total value of the kit would have exceeded £3000! Great effort everyone!
The kit was then transported to Koh Surin, alongside us on the hardwood longtail boats and delivered to Ngui (our Moken friend) in the Moken Village. Here it stayed unopened and un-tampered for 4 days in plain sight of the entire village until we had the opportunity to open the box and distribute the kit.
Our plan had been to sit down with Ngui and Hook and decide who would best benefit from what, then hand it out in a targeted manner. This all changed after our run-in with the National Park officials (more of this to come in later posts and articles!), forcing us to hand out the kit in a more speedy and stealthy way than first anticipated.
So on the penultimate day of our time on Surin, we laid all the kit out on the beach, waited for majority of men to finish their daily work as poorly paid national park boat skippers, and started the party!
We laid out a mat to display the kit, next to one of the elders who was busily crafting Moken spears in a fire.
As the kit was laid out we could hear shouts reverberating across the village, followed by a steady stream of Moken, coming to see what the commotion was all about. Without any prompting, the Moken who arrived all sat down in an orderly audience, watching us sweaty white folk laying out all manner of freediving kit in front of them like some kind of technicolor equipment banquet.
It took quite a lot of persuasion from ourselves and Hook and Ngui to get the Moken to start taking the kit. But once the first piece was picked up and assessed, it didnt take long for the rest to follow suit.
What were the first things to go? Actually it was the cheaper plastic fins, scuba fins and masks, then the spearfishing kit… followed by the freediving fins. It was interesting to see the distrust and confusion about the freediving fins, especially the carbon ones, despite our assurance that these things were the business. Hopefully once they try them out they will see how good they are.
We were also intrigued to see a lot of biting of kit, to see if it was made from good materials. Masks especially got the tooth treatment, quite obviously to check if the lenses were glass or plastic. Makes sense really.
Well….. after about 20 minutes the sand was bare and everyone had dispersed. Everything was back to how it was… the sound of the sea lapping on the shore and the steady ‘chink, chink, chink’ of the elder patiently crafting his speartips.