Meet The Last Sea Nomads Of Bajau Laut

The Coral Triangle is an area among the Indonesian-Philippines and far southwestern Pacific regions that encompasses the marine waters of Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines. Because of its overlay between two biogeographic regions, the Coral Triangle is considered to be a prime spot of Earth's marine biodiversity with more than 3,000 species of fish calling it home. 

The World Wildlife Federation has called for the Coral Triangle to be a global priority of conservation. The area has been highly damaged by destructive fishing techniques that have decimated the reefs, the marine flora and fauna, and have taken the lives of the nomadic communities native to the region.

Of the communities of the Coral Triangle, the most affected is arguably the Bajau Laut. Some of the word's last true marine nomadic groups, they live their entire lives on a strip of ocean between Malaysia and Indonesia.

They call the lepa lepa, their handmade long boats, home. While they fish with lines, netting and spears, they have a long tradition of free diving.

The Bajau Laut originated from Malay centuries ago-- their name comes from the Malay word "berjuah," meaning "the state of being away."

Despite centuries of a nomadic marine tradition, this generation of Bajau Laut may be the last as their tribe's precious resources struggle for survival.


As the surrounding seas become depleted from overfishing, the ability of the Bajau Laut to provide for their families comes under threat.

The sea cucumber and other native marine fauna have been not only a traditional staple food, but a primary source of export income for the tribe.

Moen Lanke, one of the tribe's most nomadic members, spends much of his day foraging the reef for clams, wrenching them loose with a tire iron.

Because of the issue of equalizing-- a process known to scuba divers in which the pressure between the inner and outer ear needs to be carefully balanced-- many of the Bajau intentionally burst their eardrums in youth.

Despite its extreme health risks and illegality, many Bajau engage in compressor diving. Rather than scuba, in which the air supply is carried on the diver's back, compressor diving allows the diver to breathe through a long tube.

With the lack of regulators in compression diving, the divers often ascend too quickly, leading to decompression sickness or, as it's commonly called, the bends. Decompression sickness is one of the leading causes of death for the Bajau people.


Today, the community is caught in a battle between wildlife conservation groups employing the Bajau Laut to aid in reef preservation and the commercial fishing trade imploring them to use destructive fishing practices in order to support themselves.

Fishing practices like dynamite and cyanide have wreaked havoc on the tribe, causing blindness and loss of limbs in many caught in the oceanic crossfire.

The Indonesian government has tried to persuade the Bajau Laut to move inland. But scarce resources caused many to leave the government-provided homes and build their own village on stilts above the water off the coast of Torosiaje.

In tribute to centuries of tradition, the Bajau Laut, whether by land or by sea, pay respect to the ocean during their mosque prayers in a special observance called “pamali.”

Via: Maptia

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