The Bajau people

• The Bajau, people of the sea

They live of the fishing they make from their hand crafted houseboats called lepa. Their boat is also where they live with their family, and how they travel from island to island. Others chose to live on stilt houses in coastal areas but maintain a close connection with the sea. Often the only connection between houses and even the whole village to the main land is by boat and they continue to live off the sea by subsistence fishing and the gathering of luxury sea products like trepang for export.

• Kids from a young age spend most of their time in the water playing and swimming

Later they will take on freediving and fishing as their main activity. Generations of this lifestyle have lead to remarkable adaptation. Along with a strong mammalian diving reflex, their eyes have adapted to enhance their underwater vision. It is easy to understand as they have the greatest daily apnea diving time reported in humans: greater than 5 hours per day submerged. The average Sama Dilaut – which is how the Bajau call themselves – can dive to 30m with little to no equipment, thanks to this life long training and genetic predispositions. It is also nice to know that the Philippines freediving national record for depth belongs to a Bajau young men with a dive of 80m.

• A way of life threatened?

Sadly today their unique culture is threatened by cultural assimilation and modernization. In the Philippines, the boat-dwelling Sama-Bajau are still subjected to strong cultural prejudice. This discrimination and the continuing violence in ARMM have driven many of them to emigrate. Their livelihood is also at risk. Because of restrictions imposed on their nomadic culture by modern nation states, they are losing their traditional fishing grounds and have little means of competing with better-equipped land-based and commercial fishermen. Since they cannot earn enough to feed their families, some refuge groups of Sama-Bajau in the Philippines are forced to resort to begging, particularly diving for coins thrown by tourists from ferries.

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