A Snapshot in the Lives of the Bajau Laut

Before travelling to Sabah, Borneo I didn’t know anything about the Bajau Laut, their fascinating way of life and the strong connection with the ocean. Their life is vibrant, passionate and extremely tough. They are some of the last true nomads of the sea. The Bajau Laut are stateless sea nomads who live off the coast of Sabah, Borneo. Traditionally, these boat dwelling nomads are from the many islands of the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines but many have migrated to Sabah, due to conflict. They have no citizenship and therefore no rights to public amenities, medical care or school. They live on their Lepa Lepa wooden houseboats or in stilt huts built atop coral reefs near Semporna’s islands.

Bajau children on the jetty on Kalapuan Island

They live a simple life on the water and rely on the sea for trade and for food sources. They are amazing free divers and have developed superb eyesight under water and are able to dive up to 20 meters without breathing apparatus allowing them to hunt and fish. Depleting fish in the ocean have posed a big challenge to the Bajau Laut as well as being a stateless community. The fate of these communities is very uncertain. Many are driven to the land by a decreasing supply of food in the sea and live in poverty. I feel saddened by the plight of the Bajau Laut and especially the future of the children.

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” Nelson Mandela

Tracc has a strong relationship with the Bajau village on the neighbouring island of Kalapuan, a 15 minute boat ride away. TRACC engages in community projects, educating and involving the village in conservation projects, working together in restoring the reef around the island and teaching the community about the importance of taking care of the environment.

Last week some of the Tracc volunteers visited Semporna for the Regatta Lepa Semporna. It is an annual state event that pay homage to the lepa: a traditional single-mast sailing boat of the Bajau of Semporna. A flotilla of colourful boats dot the Celebes Sea as they compete for the title of ‘Most Beautiful Lepa’.