Years ago I read an article about the Bajau Laut “Sea Gypsies” and since then I have always wanted to see one of these community for myself. This past week Reefbuilders had the opportunity to visit a Bajau village and spent three days with some Bajau fishermen diving the remote coast of Sumbawa Indonesia.
The Bajau people are found in the coral triangle region, and are known as Sea Gypsies or Sea Nomads. For generations the Bajau people have been living a seafaring life traveling around the waters of Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Borneo, some not even setting foot on land for years.
Nowadays the Bajau populations are settling on land and spending less of their lives at sea. On the island of Sumbawa the Bajau began building their stilted homes on small islands of land and since then have used Porites boulders, sand and other stones to reclaim land and build a more settled village.
Porites corals grow into large solid masses of limestone rock, and do well in warm shallow water often in conditions where other corals will not. A solid colony of Porites can grow to the size of a grapefruit in 5-6 years, making it a suitable building material for reclaiming lands, or building small walls or paths.
Disclaimer! We are not encourage the use of corals for building materials, and surely wouldn’t want to see a large hotel or industrial sized development using Porites as building materials, but for a coastal island community which has little or no access to bricks, or stones, Porites or other coral skeletons may be the only option for building a solid foundation and it can be found right offshore.
The Bajau not only look to the sea for building materials, but also for their livelihoods. The Bajau are excellent fishermen and divers, and have been involved in developing coral, fish and bivalve farms along the coast.
In these regions it is important for villagers to be able to benefit from their natural resources (fish and coral) and the farming of corals and export of aquarium fish provides an important source of income to the community. We have seen villagers collecting a handful of branching acropora frags from a lush underwater garden of coral in their own “backyard” and they are conscious of leaving more than they take, knowing what they leave will continue to grow and provide them with a sustainable source of income for years to come.
Our guides took us to dive some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have ever set eyes and we visited some of their LPS and SPS collection sites. Although the Bajau people have settled on land they truly seem at home on the sea and we are thankful for our opportunity to visit the ocean with them, and share the experience with you.