Mani 2.0 Documentary – Part 1
Mani 2.0 Documentary – Part 2
The Maniq (มันนิ) are an ethnic group of Thailand. They are the only Negrito group in Thailand and speak Maniq (also called Tonga, Kensiu or Mos), a Mon–Khmer language in the Aslian language group. It is thought they once spoke a language similar to the Andamanese language but then adopted the language of the Mon–Khmer people around them.
The Maniq are a hunting and gathering society. They build temporary huts of bamboo with roofs made of banana leaves. They hunt many types of animals and consume many different kinds of vegetables and fruits. They wear simple clothes made of materials such as bamboo leaves. They are familiar with many different species of medicinal herbs.
The total population of the “Maniq” is about 300 people.
Nomads Of The Endless Rainbow, Children Of The Wandering Moon
By Thom Henley
Not far from the high rise hotels of Phuket, a shy tribe of forest dwellers clings tenaciously to time-honoured ways. For the Mani, one of the world’s last hunter-gatherer societies, there are no weeks, months or millennia to mark the passage of time. There is only Hong, the legendary serpent rainbow, which swallows its tail to create the night and slowly releases it, each dawn, to bring the day.
I watched a sailfish tailwalk across the surface, and concluded I didn’t have to die to go to Heaven!” That’s an extract from an article in Playboy Magazine on fishing in Phuket. For the life of me I can’t remember whether the centrefold was a blonde or a brunette, but I’ll never forget the quote.
Sailfish are designed to give pleasure, and not only to other sailfish. They’ve been exciting anglers since the dawn of saltwater gamefishing. Known to a few uninitiated as “the poor man’s marlin” — a totally unjustified slur — the sailfish is an acrobatic heart-stopper. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have witnessed their spectacular performances several hundred times over, and it never fails to thrill me. (There are some anglers who are only interested in seeing these fish jump when they have a hook in their mouth. It is certainly true that they do put on a stunning display when fighting for their freedom, but a free-jumping sailfish displays all the grace, all the magnificence of a prima ballerina.)
As a sailfish hot-spot, when these creatures are on song, Phuket can compare with anywhere in the world. The word is out, and anglers are arriving from all over the world to do battle with these superb sportfish. This should be good news for Phuket — good news for resorts, restaurants, tackle shops and charter boat operators alike. Unfortunately it can be bad news for the sailfish. Yes there is no reason at all to kill these fish. Catch-and-release is common practice in most well-established fishing destinations; it could, and should be, the same in Phuket waters.
Sailfish have very little commercial value; a few Baht a kilo is all you could expect to get in the market. The sad truth is that the charterboats that kill the sailfish are killing their own future — they’re committing economic suicide. If they were all to release the fish unharmed, the anglers would keep coming back year after year to fish for them. Phuket is in a position to learn from the mistakes of others. Several countries worldwide were once fishing hot-spots and, because of bad management and killing their natural resources, they have been abandoned by anglers and have consequently lost billions of dollars in tourist revenue.
Anglers and skippers who do kill billfish will always argue that they do not do as much damage as commercial fishing boats. This may be the case, but it must be remembered that the sole purpose of commercial fishing boats is to supply the human race with food. There is no need to add to the plight of the ocean’s fish stocks by needlessly slaughtering sportfish. Sailfish are far from being a desirable foodfish for commercial fishermen, and they are very rarely targeted. (A commercial boat going through a difficult period may occasionally go for an easy catch and net an area known to hold sailfish; this is a sad but, fortunately, unusual occurrence.)
I fail to understand the logic in a charterboat skipper’s reluctance to release sailfish. I am baffled. They must realize it makes sense to protect their, and their children’s future.
It is not difficult to release a sailfish, even after it has been photographed with the angler. But anglers have told me they have demanded the release of their fish, only to be told by the skipper that the fish won’t survive the ordeal — that released fish will die anyway.
The internationally recognized form of gamefish management, tag-and-release, shoots that theory down. Hundreds of tagged fish, many of them sailfish, are recaptured every year throughout the world. (I may be stepping on dangerous ground here, but I am not entirely in favour of tag-and-release. I have my doubts about where the information gleaned from tag data ends up. This may be eccentric, but I see nothing wrong with simply letting the fish go free and unharmed. That way at least the fish — and the gamefishing industry — will benefit. Once you start sticking tags in them and sending off details of the capture, the fish becomes vulnerable.)
The situation in Phuket has gone beyond simply trying to persuade skippers to release their billfish. It’s time to look at far more serious ways of dealing with the problem. The obvious answer is to simply make the killing of billfish (sailfish, marlin and swordfish) and sharks illegal. This is easy to say, of course, but difficult to enforce. If the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and other concerned government agencies knew the true value of maintaining healthy stocks of sportfish, however, I am sure something could be done. There are numerous sportfishing venues that are drawing millions of big-spending sportfishermen every year. Phuket is already a well-established diving destination. Fishing is the most popular participant sport in the world, and a beautiful island like Phuket, offering year-round action with sailfish could ultimately attract at least as many big-game anglers.
Phuket’s current fleet is certain to increase each season. The island is becoming better established each year on the sportfishing map. If nothing is done to protect the sailfish, however, Phuket’s fame will be short-lived — it will surely go the way of the other kill-’em-all hot-spots.“Hurry, Hurry, this way,” boomed the plump man behind the microphone; “See the incredible creatures. Not really human, not really animals.” Behind the curtain of the carnival exhibit sat the bare-breasted Mani woman, looking terrified as she breast fed her infant daughter. Her husband and son stood beside her, naked except for tattered old sarongs. Together they fired blowpipe darts at balloons to amuse Thai customers who had paid 25 Baht each to gawk at the ‘savages’.
It was 1994 – my first, and saddest, encounter with Thailand’s last nomadic forest dwellers. It saddened me to realise that even in Thailand, one of the world’s most tolerant societies, the first peoples of this land were viewed as children of a lesser god.
Even this year, a Mani band from Trang was carted off to Phuket as the latest tourist side-show. For an extra 800 Baht, clients on elephant treks could ride past the ‘original Pygmy village’, where Mani dressed in sanitized red sarongs and fired blowpipes on cue… for the amusement of international tourists.
For a culture that has more to teach us about social cohesion and harmony than we have to teach it about advanced technologies, there could not be a more demeaning or pathetic portrayal.
Anthropologists generally agree that the Mani (commonly known as the Sakai) have lived in the forests of the Thai-Malay peninsula since the Neolithic (Stone) Age, some 10,000 years ago – possibly longer. At least ten times older than Thai culture, Mani society is one of the most archaic civilisations remaining on earth today. Dating these people’s occupation of the southern rainforests is a daunting task given their nomadic nature and simple technologies. They employ all natural – and therefore biodegradable – materials.
Mani origins remain a mystery. Black complexions and kinky hair have led researchers to link them to African negroes, Melanesians, Australian aborigines and even peoples of central India. Whatever their racial origins, the Mani are the most marginalized society on the peninsula today. Pushed out of their preferred lowland forest habitat by logging and agricultural expansion, they now seek refuge – like the last remaining wildlife – in small pockets of protected montane forest. In Malaysia, where they live within Taman Negara National Park, they are known as Orang Asli (Original People), recognizing that a mixture of breeding resulted in the proto Malays, and eventually the Malay peoples of today. In Thailand they are given a less noble name.
Like many aboriginal peoples, the name they call themselves – Mani (Manik) – simply means ‘the people’. But Sakai, the name most commonly used by Thais, is derived from the Malay word for savage or slave. This contemptuous label plays into the hands of those who exploit these shy and passive people.
In Thai society black skin usually means lower social status. That the Mani hunt and gather their food also diminishes them in a society centred on agriculture and animal husbandry. Their nomadic lifestyle further distances them from settled societies, while their non-violent way of life runs contrary to the proud warrior and combat traditions of Thailand and its neighbours.
Still, thanks to an enlightened government policy, the Mani fare better in Thailand than many forest dwelling tribes in S E Asia, which have been forcibly relocated to make way for logging. To Thailand’s credit, the Khao Bantad Wildlife Sanctuary in Trang, Patthalung, Yala and Satun provinces is still home to an estimated 150-200 Mani, who maintain their nomadic way of life within a 792,000 rai mountainous rainforest reserve. It was here, after two years of planning, that I was able first to encounter them in their traditional homelands.
There are many reasons why nomadic forest dwelling tribes have never – and should never – become tourist attractions. Primarily, they have gone to great lengths for thousands of years to avoid contact with larger, agriculturally based, societies; simply put, they want to be left alone. Then, because of their self-imposed isolation and small group size, they have little immunity to communicable diseases – even the common cold. Finally, it’s impossible to market to tourists a feature as fleeting as a nomadic jungle tribe. To guarantee an encounter is to guarantee the tribe is no longer nomadic!
So what was I doing making contact with them? Trying to raise awareness necessary to ensure their survival would be part of my answer – but only part. I believe, increasingly, that the fate of these people and the fate of our own societies are inextricably linked. Like the canary in the coal mine, the Mani’s ability to survive in the last pockets of rainforest is the best indication of the health of those ecosystems. On another level, these last social remnants of a lifestyle all of our ancestors once knew are more than reflections on our distant past; they embody values that humanity needs to embrace if there is to be a collective future.
We have bought into the notion that humans are basically warlike, aggressive and selfish creatures. But this poses an interesting question: If this is basic human nature, why do traditional societies like the Mani have no words for war, aggression or greed? Why is it the social crises that scream from daily headlines do not exist within these so-called primitive societies?
These and other thoughts went through my mind as I trudged up the lush rainforest mountainside for my first encounter with the Mani. Khun Chow Chatpong, Director of the Khao Bantad Wildlife Sanctuary, had gone out of his way to make this possible, arranging transportation and a knowledgeable guide/translator, Khun Lie – a man who had long befriended the Mani and earned their trust.
Stepping into the encampment was a step back in time. Nine lean-to shelters were arranged in a circle, facing each other across a small clearing. The greenness of the large leaves – used to shingle the steep 60-degree-inclined roofs of the shelters – were the best indication that this band of 22 related Mani had been here but a short time.
There are no formal greetings with the Mani; they are much too shy in the presence of strangers to reach out a hand. Instead of welcoming me into their encampment, they averted their eyes and pretended I wasn’t there. I knew enough from decades of encounters with forest dwellers to spend the first day or two just sitting quietly, being observed; trust takes time.
The Mani spend much of their day lounging in shelters atop platforms of poles, set on 30 degree angles to ensure a more comfortable, elevated head position. They have a remarkable amount of leisure time, which they spend relaxing, chatting, cuddling their children or tossing a few yam-like roots on the fire to roast.
The Mani are more root diggers than hunters, depending on ten different species of wild jungle yams for the bulk of their diet. These tubers are dug daily with one of the oldest tools known to man: the dig-stick. They are then washed in the creek and tossed on the fire to roast slowly. The burnt skin is peeled away to reveal a complete carbohydrate meal – nutritious, juicy and slightly sweet.
In addition to wild roots, the forest provides the Mani with edible greens, more than 70 species of wild fruits and countless medicines unknown to modern science. Their hunting skills, employing bamboo blowpipes, are legendary. These silent but deadly tools (bo lao) are fashioned from a species of bamboo with exceptionally long chambers. The bo lao is composed of two bamboo sections, one inserted inside the other. Darts (bilia) are made from the sago palm and the poison for the tips combines latex from certain trees with other ‘top secret’ ingredients. Yet the Mani have never used a blowpipe as a weapon against another human; murder and war are not only anathema to their culture, they have no words to describe either.
Today the Mani are faced with a survival crisis. Bush meat is in short supply. They now get animal protein – usually small animals – only every week or so; poachers armed with high powered rifles have moved in. And their greatly diminished forest base continues to shrink almost daily, as illegal rubber plantations encroach. The number of nomadic Mani people is also in steady decline as more and more are coaxed, or kidnapped, into working the rubber plantations. And a few are still carted off as carnival attractions.
As Hung again swallowed its tail, bringing on the darkness of my second night, I lay awake contemplating the future of these gentle people. They may have been doing much the same.
From every hearth a fire flickered to ward off the night chill. Firelight illuminated the child-like faces of each family and cast a warm glow inside each hut. Outside, forest floor mushrooms, mildews and moulds glowed with an eerie bioluminescence; fireflies turned the forest into a fairyland of twinkling lights to rival the star-studded sky. A medley of frog songs, katydad calls and the chirping of a million crickets played as soothingly as a classical symphony, while a quarter moon slowly rose through the branches of the tallest trees.
Throughout the night people would occasionally awaken, stir life back into the fading embers of their 10,000-year-old fires and peer up through the forest canopy at their grandmother, the moon. According to Mani mythology, the original parents of all creation were the offspring of father sun and mother moon. The reason that Grandmother moon shows a new face each night is because she is looking in a different direction to oversee and safeguard her wandering grandchildren.
As I prepared to depart on the third morning of my visit, the Mani too put their few belongings into small pandanus leaf woven baskets and moved on – as they have since before recorded time. Somewhere in the forest nine new shelters would be erected before nightfall and 22 people would make their meal from what nature offers. Life would carry on as it has since the dawn of humanity. In a world changing with unprecedented speed, it will require a revolution in consciousness to protect the Mani’s forest and bring respect to their way of life. In the meantime, we can only pray that grandmother moon will continue to watch over her family.