The Badjao: Nomads of the sea

The traditional lifestyle of the nomadic Badjao people is under threat from modernisation and overfishing.

Guillem Valle | | Human Rights, Environment, Asia Pacific

Malaysia/Indonesia -   The Badjao are a sea-dwelling tribe, often known as the "Sea Nomads", who have been floating off the shores of Southeast Asia for centuries. As a nomadic tribe living in stilt huts or boat houses on shallow waters, they make their living from traditional free-diving for fish and pearls. 

Over the years, more and more Badjao people have been lured away from the ocean, migrating to a life on land.

As they belong to no official state and possess no official nationality, they find the move from sea to land a challenge. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, the Badjao are at a disadvantage with no schooling, healthcare or access to government-provided social services.

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In the process of adapting to a land-based life, their unique skills in free-diving, along with their in-depth knowledge and understanding

of the ocean, becomes much less relevant. The younger generations have forgotten their ability to dive to the bottom of the reef and walk on the bottom of the ocean.

Many Badjao communities on land live in squalid settlements.

Some Badjao, however, have managed to maintain a sea-faring life and preserve their traditions in the solitude and liberty of living freely and independently on the sea, away from the rules and restrictions that bind those who live on land.

Follow Guillem Valle on Twitter:  @Guillem_Valle

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