Tags / Indigenous Peoples
Bajau children are going out into the ocean to look for seafood during the low tide in Mabul island, Malaysia. Whenever the weather permits, they take bowls and spoons and swim or crawl under the water looking around and looking for anything eatable to add to their family table.
Bajau children play in the water in Mabul island, Malaysia. Water is their home, playground and main source of food.
Studies on some children from Thailand and Burma, living in similar communities, show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
Bajau children wait for their parents to come back from Semporna town, Malaysia. Since they are very little, Bajau kids are taught to sail, fish and do other activities necessary for their survival in the ocean.
Minjul and his friends look for seafood as they play underwater in Mabul Island, Malaysia. Studies on children in similar communities show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
Woman is preparing food by her stilt house in Sibuan island, Malaysia.
Bajau woman pours water away from her boat, near her small stilt house just right offshore Sibuan island, Malaysia.
A lot of Bajau have moved from the boats and built themselves small houses on the coral reef or on the islands. There are about 100 Bajau living in Sibuan island. Might be that in the future all of Bajau are going to settle down and there won’t be any boats floating around Semporna town and other island in the region anymore.
Bajau children selling seafood and begging for money around the resorts in Mabul island.
A lot of Bajau children don’t go to school and just like their parents are not able to read nor write.
The Bajau Laut are one of the last nomads of the sea left. An ethnic group of Malay origin, these "sea gypsies" live on their boats for their entire lives, roaming in between the Coral Triangle (marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste). There might be anywhere from five to over 20 people living on one boat, spending all of their time together, moving from one place to another. The ocean is everything to the Bajau.
They live out their lives on the sea, and are so accustomed to the water that when they are on solid ground, some of Bajau say they start to feel 'island sickness' and hurry back to their home on the ocean. Though the number of these nomads is decreasing, as the fish that they depend on disappear from the seas with dynamite or cyanid fishing. Exploitive fishing was very popular up to a few years ago. Now cyanide and dynamite are prohibited in the area, though, as locals report, explosions still can be heard. Living in unity with the ocean allows the Bajau to develop extraordinary ability to free dive. They can go as deep as 20 meters down to look for seafood. They also used to dive for pearls. Studies on some children from Thailand and Burma, living in similar communities, show that they have unusually good underwater-vision because their eyes have adapted to the liquid environment.
Most of the Bajau doesn't have any documents, they doesn't know their age nor where they were born. Alee came to Mabul from Philippines and was working in one of the resorts on the island. He asked his boss to help him create a school for stateless children after he saw that so many kids in the island donâ€™t have a possibility to learn. In the beginning Alee worked with only 4 children, but now over 80 students come to his classes.
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Sempula plays on the side of the boat while the rest of his family talk on the deck, their "living room," close to the shores of Semporna town. The family spends most of the time hanging out on the deck, looking through the windows, preparing food and playing games. The Bajau Laut, also known as sea gypsies, are an indigenous ethnic group who have retained a seaborne lifestyle, living in the boats, roaming in between the Coral Triangle or settling in small stilt houses built on the reef or islands.
Langring is resting at the end of the boat. The whole in the floor is used as bathroom. Family also has a few smaller boats, that they use for fishing and going to Semporna town or other islands.
Bajau living on boats in the Semporna area, Malaysia.
Currently, in the Malaysian state of Sabah, Bajau are stated to be the second largest ethnic group. However, exact figures of their population are unknown. More and more of them are moving to live on land voluntarily or forcibly.
!Most of the Bajau don’t have any documents, they don’t know their age nor where they were born. A new-married couple stays with their parents or gets a new boat for themselves and starts independent life. Then often relationship with family members don’t last, as the boats miss each other in the vast waters.
Sempula is playing on the boat. He is the youngest member of the family, always looking for some activities - climbing onto the roof of the boat, walking on the sides or running around.
Siboto is looking for louses in Langring's hair.
Langring is brushing his teeth on the board of the boat early in the morning.
Aranaki shaves on his boat close to Semporna town, Malaysia. Recently, his family has not moved their boat too much, preferring to stay close to the town, just floating a bit further from the fish market.
Siboto brushes her teeth in the "bathroom" at the back of the boat. There is also a family's kitchen where members of the family make food and eat together. During the day, Siboto helps other women with daily work or plays with Sempula and Langring.
Family on the deck is looking for some activities to spend the day. To get some money, they make carpets from water plants, sell them in Semporna town and buy clothes or food.
Shigesh is dressing up in the morning, while Sempula is urinating over the board. The rest of the family is still sleeping on the boat, floating close to the town of Semporna, Malaysia.
The back of the boat is the family’s kitchen, where they make food and eat together. Their neighbours float around with smaller and bigger boats.
There might be 5 to over 20 people living on boat, moving from one place to another and spending all of their time together.
Lakit applies 'burak' - a powder made of waterweeds or rice and a yellow spice - to her face, to cool it down and protect it from the sun. Lakit is the one who takes care of looks in the family - she shaves everyone's eyebrows, makes their hair and takes care of their skin.
Night on the boat in the waters of Semporna, close to the town. The whole family sleeps on the deck under the roof. They go to sleep when the darkness falls and gets up with the sunrise every day. If it starts raining during the night, women are pumping water from the bottom of the boat.
Dried fish hanging in the family boat. Bajau Laut dry fish to eat it later or to sell it in the market to earn money to buy other kinds of food.
Barisaya and her children Romi and Ina are waiting for Barisaya’s husband and father-in-law to come back from Semporna with fuel and food.
Romi and Ina are not attending school, but spend all of their time with the family on the boat. “My grandchildren started crying when we took them to school. They were afraid. So the best thing is just to stay on the boat and go fishing together,” Bungsali says. “Also, when we see tourists in Semporna, we send the kids to beg for money.”
Romi and Ina are eating noodles on the top of the boat, close to Semporna town, Malaysia.
Romi and Ina are not attending school, but spend all of their time with the family on the boat. “My grandchildren started crying when we took them to school. They were afraid. So the best is just to stay on the boat and go fishing together,” Bungsali says. “Also, when we see tourists in Semporna, we send kids to beg for money.”
Bajau Laut in Semporna area, Malaysia.
The only time that Bungsali and his family venture on land is to get fresh water from the mountains, or to buy some food, fuel and cigarettes in the town.
Most Bajau are unaware of their age, have but one name and are unable to read or write. On top of this, many have no formal documents to speak of or know where they were born. No documents means no education nor health care; the Sama Dilaut are unable to live a regular life and continually face difficulties.
Bajau children are playing on Mabul island. Most of their parents are working in Semporna or other towns in Sabah and children are left alone or with their grandparents. It's seems that the island belongs to children as you can see them play everywhere.
In the evenings though, some of them attend a school for stateless children. A local teacher, Alee, established this school on Mabul island 5 years ago. In the beginning Alee had only 4 pupils, but now the number of students attending his lessons, which take place at 8pm ever night (except Thursday), has swollen to 80.
“It is very important for Bajau children to start learning, as this is the only way for them to get jobs in the future and make a living if they cannot fish anymore,” Alee explains.
Most Bajau lack official papers, and this means their children are unable to attend public schools.
Countless numbers of Bajau children are still without education, however, and while NGOs and other organisations are working on trying to get more Bajau Laut educated by encouraging their children to attend school, in the end it’s still their choice.
Bajau children are playing on Mabul island. Most of their parents are working in Semporna or other towns in Sabah and children are left alone or with their grandparents. It seems that the island belongs to children as you can see them play everywhere.
Agunnay family's house on Mabul island, Malaysia.
Agunnay, his wife Intanlasa and their children in the house in Mabul island, Malaysia.
Agunnay and his nephew at home in Mabul island, Malaysia. Agunnay has 5 sons and two daughters. It took two days for him to build the hut when they came here from the Philippines and decided to settle.
Agunnay not only built a small house for his family, but even got a wrist watch to look like a more modern man. “I have the watch, but I don’t know the numbers. So if I need to know the time, I go to my neighbours, show my watch and ask what the time is”.
Bajau Laut stilt houses on Mabul island.
Children are making small squid ink "bombs". Later they will be used by their parents for attracting tuna.
Agunnay is spearfishing in the shallow waters. Living in unity with the ocean allows the Bajau to develop extraordinary abilities to free dive. They can go as deep as 20 meters down to look for seafood. They also used to dive for pearls.
"When father took me to free dive for the first time, I didn’t know how to do it. He just showed me how to breathe and block my nose. Then he put a rope with some weights on me and drooped me into the ocean," explains Agunay.
A Bajau woman and her children caught in the storm offshore Mabul island. They go around the island to sell fish for resorts or tourists and earn some money.
There might not be any Sama Dilaut living on boats left in the area in a few years. Only stories and legends about people from the Ocean will remain.
A man selling sea food for tourists next to one of the resorts in Mabul island.