Sofie Olsen

Biography: Sofie Olsen (1985) is a Norwegian photographer currently based in Oslo. She graduated in June, 2011 from International Center of Photography, New York City, attending the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism one-year program. She was... MORE
Private Story
Copyright Sofie Olsen 2024
Updated Dec 2012
Topics Burma, Discrimination/Minority, Documentary, Globalization, Hunters and gatherers, Isolation, Nomads, Ocean, Photography, Sea Gypsies, Thailand, Underwater

I dived down into the ocean with my camera together with the Moken people.

For thousands of years, an Austronesian tribe of sea-dwellers, called Moken, has lived in the Mergui Archipelago, consisting of more than 800 islands in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand and Burma. They have been living a semi-nomadic life, primarily in their traditional Kabang boats, where a whole family reside, only the monsoon months spent in temporary huts on land. The last published estimation of remaining traditional Moken is 2000-3000. But the real number may be dramatically lower than this; I fear that it is severely outdated.

Traditionally they have lived as hunters and gatherers. Diving into the ocean for food, spearing fish, collecting sea cucumbers and seashells. Before their children learn to how walk, they know how to dive. I have seen them down at twenty meters, without fins or oxygen, holding their breath for minutes while hunting, only spending the necessary time to do what they dived down for.

The free-roaming life in the Mergui Archipelago has for long been protected from influence from the mainland due to the remoteness geographically. The recent radical changes in Burmese politics, such as escalating encouragement for foreign investment in the country and rapidly increasing pressure from the fishing- and tourism industry, is making the traditional Moken lifestyle impossible.

I am interested in exploring how perceptions of ones life are relative and altering through changes in perspective and comparatives. By moving into the rootless element of the ocean, it may rouse sensations of entering a place where time seems to come to a halt, floating weightlessly in a mass of life where one is an alien, provoking a sense of vulnerability and humbleness to the grandness of nature we too often ignore in everyday life. I trusts that the Moken people have something to offer us, not only where we all may have come from, but also reminding us the value of living as one with our surroundings. 

I think the rapidly dilution of the Moken culture and traditions may be another paradigm of the global homogenization of lifestyle and cultures. Or values are created, changes and alternated according to our living situation and relationship to society. I am interested in the philosophical and ethical questions we may ask us selves through the lives of the Moken, such as how we are perceiving our increasingly materialistic culture and development, ecological abuse and relationship to our society, collectiveness and diversity. 

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