Moken or Salon people’s spirit festivals in Kawthoung, Myeik Archipelago

The Moken or Salon People’s Spirit Festival will take place from the second week of February to March in Kawthoung and the Myeik Archipelago.
Informally known as sea gypsies, the Salon people reside in Makyonegalat Village in the Sungebarline Village-tract in Kawthoung Township. Each village has held the Spirit Festival for generations under the guidance of shamans.
Traditionally, villagers search for two tortoises along the shore and delay the festival until they are found. The community refrains from consuming clams attached to rocks, fearing they may develop severe diarrhoea or fever when venturing into the sea if they do so.
Shamans invite spirits to the festival, wishing abundant catches throughout the year and good health. They then offer food and drinks to the spirits. Ceremonies will occur at Nyaungwhee Island on 11 February, LaNgan Village on 12 February, and Makyonegalat Village on 10 March.
Makyonegalat Village boasts the largest Salon population among villages in Kawthoung and the Myeik Archipelago, with nearly 400 households. The community’s religious landscape is diverse, encompassing Buddhism, Christianity, and animism as the major faiths.
The Salon people observe a distinct funeral rite where family members dance around the deceased to express their love. The body is then buried along with their tools and food.
U Ngwe Win, chairman of the Moken Salon Literature and Culture Association in Kyunsu Township, emphasized the cultural significance of the Spirit Festival, stating: “The Spirit Festival is deeply ingrained in the Salon people’s heritage. They refrain from going to the sea during this period.”
Shamans gather and visit the hosting village. The community believes that spirit dances bring prosperity for the upcoming year. The festival usually attracts local and foreign visitors.
“The Salon community, the smallest among Myanmar’s ethnic groups, sustains their livelihood from the sea. It’s important to preserve one’s cultural identity. Thus, we hold the festival annually. The regional government supports the festival, too”.
While shaspmans remain vital in cultural practices, their traditional role as healers has diminished with the community’s increasing reliance on modern medicine. The animist belief has been waning, too.
The association collaborates closely with the regional government to enhance the well-being of the Salon people. As part of their efforts, the government plans to arrange a documentary photoshoot featuring the Salon people, funded by the Union budget, in July. Additionally, initiatives are underway to raise awareness about the community, aiming to attract curious visitors. — Thitsa (MNA)/NT

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