A journey with the Bajau Laut
Project info

The Bajau are an ethnic group of people found in Malaysia (Island of Borneo), the Philippines and Indonesia. Many of them, who identify as Bajau Laut and are also known as the "Sea Nomads" or "Sea Gypsies" have an extraordinary way of life that is mostly spent on the water

I met the Bajau Laut in Malaysia, on the north-eastern side of Borneo.Some of them live on boats called "lepa" but the majority of them live in settlements composed of several stilt houses. Those settlements are found in the shallow waters near islands or the mainland.

During the day most of the men will be out at sea hunting fish. Women, children and the elderly will generally stay in the settlement. There they might search for seafood and take care of the elderly and the younger ones.

Modern society, cultural assimilation and political instability has had its toll on the Bajau Laut and forced many of them to adapt their ancestral customs. They slowly but steadily give up their traditional ways of living and join the mainland in Borneo. There, urban slums built on the shores are growing exponentially.

As a consequence of their nomadic lifestyles, the Bajau Laut have never been recognized by any state. They remain stateless and are considered to be illegals. Without official papers they don't have many rights. Most of them have no access to proper education, work or medical care. In the urban slums where they now live, diseases can spread quickly, especially among the youngest ones.