The Boat – their House and Heaven
It was a real chock to enter Semporna (northeastern Borneo) at the first time. Everyone was speaking the language Sinama, they were driving cars, working in banks, using Internet cafes, etc. What in Mindanao was a small language spoken by a small tribe of sea people, is here the everyday language of more than 70 000 people.
But in fact this is not very strange. Today you can find many different Bajau groups. Originally they were all sea nomads but some left the nomadic life centuries ago. In Davao City I have been living with a Bajau group called sama Sama Pala´u or “the people that lives on boat” and they have maintained their traditional way of living in a very high extent. Few of them go to school, they are not familiar with the modern lifestyle and they make their living from fishing.
So, are there any Sama Pala’u (or Bajau Laut) in Semporna? Oh, yes! On my second day in Semporna I went to an isolated island called Denawan where I stayed for two nights. And there I could see more than 50 house boats = sea nomads, and approximately 50% of these boats are not equipped with an engine. They are used to travel between islands of Sabah, Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Philippines in search for fish and good weather conditions. They can freely cross the boarder between Malaysia and Philippines due to their status as indigenous people. They live on the boat – their house and their heaven!
In Semporna the fishing is great. On Denawan island Sama Pala´u cathced large number of fish every day, that later will be sold in the cities of Semporna, Sandakan or Kota Kinabalau. The dive sites outside of Semporna are listed among the best sites in the world, and every year thousands of tourists are arriving. They are mostly served by Bajau workers.
I have also been spending a lot of time in the fish port of Semporna, called Jombatan. It´s a lively place with fishing boats, fishermen, fruits, restaurants and thousands of Sinama speakers. Many of them were very really surprised and glad when they realized that I could speak their dialect: “You are the first white person that speak our language!”.