Bajau People: The Sea Gypsies
The Bajau people, also known as Sea Gypsies, live in the waters of the Sulu Sea and the Celebes Sea, east of Borneo. They are an indigenous group of people who traditionally spent most of their lives on boats. They have lived on the Malaysian seas for generations.
Originally, their boats served the purpose of transportation while at the same time providing a dwelling place for many family members of different ages. The Bajau people don’t use calendars. So those who still live at sea don’t when they were born nor their exact age. They prefer to follow the orbit of the starts and the changes of season. Throughout their entire lives, very few of them ever visit dry land. The children never go to school. But that does not mean that they don’t learn. From an early age, the children are taught how to swim and dive. In fact, some Bajau people can freedive up to fifteen meters in fifteen minutes. No equipment necessary. They also learn to catch fish to eat from a very young age. In the case of an emergency, somebody goes to shore, buys medicine and takes it back to the boat. They never go to the hospital.
Some Bajau fishermen leave their boats and go to the market to sell the fish they catch. When they get paid, they buy a few staples and then head right back out to the sea.
Their nomadic lifestyle is being challenged by modern social expectations and tourism. Adapting to this version of modernism can cause them to lose their identity. As it is, some of them are stateless, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. They see citizenship as something insignificant that doesn’t fill their stomachs. However many of them opt for legal identification in order to get jobs, even though they are seen as second-class citizens.
Nowadays a good number of Bajau live in stilt villages over the ocean. Their houses are simple wooden structures about two meters above the water. There are no bridges or walkways between the houses, though. They use paddleboats or walk on the sand when the tide is low enough.
Others live on the shore close to resorts. They take advantage of tourism to make a living. Or maybe it’s the other way around and tourism takes advantage of them. Watch this now.