Who are the Bajau?

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Who are the Bajau?

The Bajau people, also known as Sea Gypsies or Sea Nomads, are an indigenous group of people who have traditionally lived on the water in South East Asia. They are known for their exceptional diving abilities, as well as their unique cultural pratices.

Geographical Distribution

The Bajau people can be found in several countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. Historically, they have lived on boats or in stilt houses above the water, and have relied on fishing and trading to sustain their way of life. They build boats, called lepa-lepa’s which they use to transport themselves across the sea, and they don’t often set foot on land. The lives of the Bajau revolve around the sea.

Exceptional Diving Abilities

One of the most notable aspects of the Bajau people is their incredible ability to free-dive to depths of up to 70 meters without the use of scuba gear. They have adapted to life underwater over generations and have developed larger spleens, which allows them to hold their breath for longer periods of time. They learn from an early age how to control their breathing underwater and to fish, meaning that by the time they reach adolescence they are usually skilled fishermen, often using traditional methods like hand-line fishing or spearfishing to catch fish and other seafood.

Rich Cultural Heritage

The Bajau people's deep connection to their seafaring way of life has fostered a rich cultural heritage. During their ocean dives, they don handmade wooden goggles to protect their eyes, which are often crafted through an essential cultural process for boys, taught by their fathers. As a spiritual people, the Bajau worship Omboh Dilaut, the God of the sea, and other sea spirits. While many Bajau communities are Muslim, their religious beliefs remain intertwined with their daily lives. Their language varies slightly depending on the region, and their traditional attire features vibrant colours and intricate embroidery.

Challenges and Resilience

Unfortunately, the Bajau people have faced challenges in recent years due to climate change, overfishing, and government policies that restrict their access to traditional fishing grounds. Some Bajau communities have been forced to abandon their nomadic lifestyle and settle on land, which has led to cultural displacement and economic challenges. Despite these challenges, the Bajau people continue to preserve their cultural heritage and way of life.

Curious to discover more about the Bajau people? Come explore our Tribes Brussels Central Station location, which is wholly inspired by this fascinating community of seafarers. We invite you to visit us and see for yourself!

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