French-Thai-Burmese International Research Network on Culture and Environment

2015- 2022
Dr. Jacques Ivanoff

Moken Alive Museum




The International Scientific Network (IRN) Tanaosri is a multi-disciplinary research project focusing on the Moken, a population of sea-nomads scattered along the western coast of Southern Myanmar and Thailand. The IRN Tanaosri sets-up a collaborative research between French, Thai and Burmese institutions that has been ongoing since 2015. The project is managed by Dr. Jacques Ivanoff, CNRS researcher at the Eco-anthropology and ethnobiology laboratory (UMR 7206 CNRS-MNHN).

Tanaosri is the research network project leading to a FSPI project in Myanmar MOKEN (2019-2020) which aim at building a Museum in the islands of the Myeik archipelago (Maxime Boutry, Jean Chicoteau, Fabienne Galangau, Jacques Ivanoff).

The Moken, hunter-gatherers with a strong ideology (non-violence, non-accumulation, strong resilience in the face of the blows of history), are the extreme point of migration of millions of Austronesians who left Taiwan about 3500 years ago. They are the repository of oral history, construction techniques, but also survival strategies and techniques for the rational exploitation of the natural resources of the western Austronesians, whose nomadic cultural background has left its mark on them. They are also the recipients of all the forgotten history of the region which they can tell to the interested populations. They can become the matrix for writing the forgotten annals of history, because history is constantly present in their myths and tales, and also in their way of doing things. Finally, the Moken constitute a link and a “cultural order” contrasting with the seemingly chaotic exploitation of the Myeik Archipelago (Myanmar).

In order to save the cultures, memory and resources of this archipelago of 800 islands coveted by many, the Myanmar government has decided to promote Moken’s place in the Myeik Archipelago’s development, and asked us to “give back to the Moken” what was theirs.

It is a question of understanding the nomadic model that has been able to protect itself from the tsunami, from slavery and other blows of history while preserving the environment and even re-anthropicizing it. However the situation today with the opening of the country to fisheries, pearl culture, and tourism has transformed the society. It is thus time to valorize and preserve this heritage with the Moken and the Burmese so that the Moken can keep their culture, that the Burmese continue to enjoy it and that foreigners discover it.

Missions and research themes

The IRN Tanaosri is at the crossroads between fundamental and applied research, so its missions cover the following fields:

  • Cartography of the Moken Social Space (CartES), mobility and resources: the CartES, by bringing together the representation of the territory, mobility and the oral corpus (myths, epics, songs, poems) of the Moken society makes it possible to identify anteriorities, social spaces that have disappeared, spaces that are changing and intermediate social spaces that are being created, and the coordinates that link the resources to the Moken society.
  • Museology: the interest that museology researchers have found in this field for new exploratory work in science museology (museum experimentation and heritage study) will enable us to propose and carry out a “sustainable” museum project that respects the values of the Moken. We have carried out the inventory of the collection and set-up the Moken Alive Museum which will also offer all the data from the CarteES. To continue the collaborative process with the Moken and ensure their understanding of the museum system, we will carry out a restitution study of the objects and a prefiguration exhibition. This study should enable them to understand the stakes of museum representation and will also provide us with a real laboratory for museum analysis on the reception of anthropocene museums. This research theme is also backed by a fund for Innovative Projects from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.
  • Transcending borders: the question of borders is at the centre of research on the Moken and the populations (fishermen, tourists) with whom they interact. On the one hand, because the Moken are spread over a territory stretching from southern Thailand to southern Burma, and on the other hand, because as nomads, mobility is for them at the centre of identity issues. This research theme focuces on defining the Moken’s endogenous vision of “frontiers”. To do so, we rely on temporality and the way it permeates the myths, allowing the Moken to perpetually adapt to the blows of history. Does the frontier forge Moken identity in the same way that slavery and irrigated rice cultivation conditioned their differentiation from coastal populations? This exercise will enable us to approach the anthropology of borders from a new perspective that takes into account the endogenous vision of populations that are “naturally” cross-border.
  • Ethnogenetic: this research theme studies the genetic variation and diversity of the Moken people of Myanmar and contextualize it within the region of Southeast Asia, with particular reference to the speakers of the Austronesian family of languages.


    To reach the objectives of the IRN-Tanaosri, the following activities are envisaged:

          • The organisation of workshops and seminars within the network partners and open to external collaborators.
          • Co-participation to international congresses & conferences where the multidisciplinary expertise of the Network will be recognised and showcased.
          • Joint publications and implementation of joint projects between French, Thai and Burmese partners within the IRN-Tanaosri research themes.

    Participative research with the Moken and programation of the Moken Alive Museum

    institutions and laboratories involved


    • UMR 7206 : Eco-anthropology and Ethnobiology, Dept Hommes, natures et sociétés, MNHN-CNRS
    • UMR PALOC, MNHN-IRD, 57 rue Cuvier – 75005 Paris
    • UMR 201 Development and Societies (DEVSOC), IRD-Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne


    • Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI), Royal University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok
    • Institute of Asian Studies (IAS), Royal University of Chulalongkorn, Bangkok


      • Department of Marine Science, University of Mawlamyine

      The Ibling shaman (Island of Nyawy, Mergui archipelago) and the spirit posts (Credits: Moken Alive Museum)

      Nyawy village (Credits: Moken Alive Museum)

      Moken child, Niawy village (Credits: Moken Alive Museum)