The Sea Gypsy villagers have been fighting a long battle against local businessmen who hold papers for the beachfront land where the Sea Gypsies live, and want to see them gone, presumably so that the land can be sold or developed.
At a meeting in Bangkok yesterday (October 22), Pol Lt Col Prawut Wongseenin of the DSI’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and Environmental Crime, explained, “We have aerial photographs taken in 1950 and we have [human] bones.
“The aerial photos show Sea Gypsy people living under coconut trees where the bones were found previously.”
He explained that the bones cannot be dated accurately – the margin of error is too great for bones less than 1,000 years old.
However, he said, the ages of the graves in which the bones were found have been established by archaeologists from the Office of Fine Arts and DNA tests have established that the bones came from relatives of Sea Gypsies alive today and living in Rawai.
Apart from aerial photographs and bones, the DSI also examined film of HM the King visiting the village 1959, and has student registers from local schools in 1957.
“There is a film of HM the King visiting and we can see the community, and Sea Gypsy villagers living on the land,” Col Prawut said.
“We also have student registers that contains the names of some Sea Gypsy people who are still alive. These people can be the witnesses for their community.”
There is one final hurdle that must be overcome, Col Prawut said, before the Sea Gypsies have a solid case for continuing to occupy the land.
Aerial photographs show rice fields and coconut plantations on the land in and around the community. He said it must be established whether the Sea Gypsies planted these, or other people did.
The battle over the land has been going on for years. In March last year seven Sea Gypsies lost a court case, with the court ruling that the land under their homes belonged to Piyawat Sa Ngiamkul, whose family owns the Ban Raya Travel & Tour Co.
Ban Raya Travel and Tour owns the Ban Raya Resort on Racha Yai Island and also runs day trips to the island.
The court ruled that Mr Piyawat’s chanote title for land under the seven houses was legitimate.
The lawyer for the seven said they would appeal, and that hearing is now pending.
He added that Mr Piyawat’s chanote covers two rai of land, and that another 33 Sea Gypsy homes sit on the same land.
However, Mr Piyawat told The Phuket News after the hearing that he has no plans to sue the occupants of the other 33 homes, and is prepared to sign a contract leasing the land to them.
The evidence uncovered by the DSI will, it is hoped, allow the Sea Gypsies to win the appeal.