The Bajau Laut people of the south-western Philippines

The Bajau Laut people of the south-western Philippines live their entire lives on the sea. Known...

Bajau Laut overview

The Bajau Laut people of the south-western Philippines live their entire lives on the sea. Known as “sea gypsies” or “sea nomads”, they inhabit amazing villages built on stilts in the middle of the ocean.

Many Bajau people do not set foot on land except to trade fish and sea cucumbers for rice and (ironically) water, build new boats, or bury the deceased. In fact, they sometimes report feeling “landsick” when they do!
Even when their fragile, driftwood settlements are decimated in the typhoon season, or ransacked by pirates, they just take to their boats and start to build a new house.

badjau houses

These amazing people are so at home in the water that their bodies have physically adapted to it, giving them better underwater vision and the ability to hold their breath for up to five minutes while free-diving for their dinner.

Where their bodies haven’t adapted enough, they just fashion a pair of goggles out of a passing bit of flotsam...

The origin of the word Bajau is not clear cut. It is generally accepted that these groups of people can be termed Bajau, though they never call themselves Bajau. Instead, they call themselves with the names of their tribes, usually the place they live or place of origin. They accept the term Bajau because they realize that they share some vocabulary and general genetic characteristic such as in having darker skin, although the Simunuls appear to be an exception in having fairer skin.

Discrimination of Bajau,particularly from the dominant Tausūg people who have historically viewed them as 'inferior' and less specifically from the Christian Filipinos and the continuing violence in Muslim Mindanao, have driven many Bajau to begging, or to migrate out of the country. They usually resettle in Malaysia and Indonesia, where they are less discriminated against.

Today the number of Bajau who are born and live primarily at sea is diminishing, partially due to hotly debated government programs which have moved Bajau on to the mainland.

Bajau Laut couple

Bajau Laut  swimming with fish

Bajau Laut children


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