Getting to know the sea gypsies of Sabah

We were privileged to hitch an early morning ride with one of the ESSCOM patrol RIBs at BouhayDulang as they made their first routine check of all our boats and a larger sweep of the area. Making a loop around the marine park, we stopped to check out a sea gypsy father and son fishing there and were relieved to see how gentle and understanding the Captain of our ESSCOM crew was towards the ‘Bajau Laut’ (sea gypsies).

Later that morning, we went back to talk to the families in the stilted houses and administered some first aid to one little boy before learning how to climb a palm tree to find the best coconuts!

The Bajau Laut are stateless people, tolerated by Sabah and some of the Philippine islands but with no access to education or healthcare. It’s a simple life of fishing and bartering, and the people (despite how little they have in terms of ‘first world’ materialism) are a close and seemingly happy community.

In the afternoon we went back to meet more families and to hand out anything we thought might be useful: clothes, money, fishing gear, medical supplies, food. They need baby clothes and baby formula, but none of us had either, so next time we head out we will carry both on board.

The pandemic has made life even harder for the Bajau Laut as they are unable to barter, so they exist on what they can collect from the land and islands. If you feel the inclination to help out, an excellent group on Facebook is doing all it can to send aid. Check out Semporna Heroes.

This is the second in what has turned out to be a three-parter, with plenty more of this beautiful place to come next week.

Thank you for supporting our work and reading the blog in these difficult times.

Peace and fair winds,
Liz and Jamie xx


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3 thoughts on “Getting to know the sea gypsies of Sabah”

  1. A wonderful view into the lives of people we would otherwise never see. In spite of their homeliessness
    they seem happy enough with smiles all around. Perhaps the lesson here is that we could all learn to be satisfied and happy with less. Might do us well. Thanks for sharing

  2. I love the Bajau. They are spread from Thailand via Indonesia, Malaysia to the Philippines. Unfortunately, their culture is going under. Many are forced to settle down and spend their lives begging and helping, and are forced into beliefs they do not understand (Islam, Christianity). Their future is uncertain, it is actually a sad story ignored by vicious private interests, inhumane governments and regimes.

    1. I couldn’t agree more. Give them a little help when they need it and allown them to keep their culture and way of life without interference from bureaucracy and officialdom.

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