For a Living Ocean

A World Famous but still Stateless Bajau Diver

More than 2,8 million people have seen BBC:s production “One breath”, featuring the Bajau Laut diver Sulbin. However, we don’t know much about the man. What reality is he living in? Helen Brunt, an anthropologist who spent eight years (2004-2012) in Sabah has written an article about Sulbin in Minority Voices: Malaysia: The story of an infamous, yet invisible Bajau man.

Sulbin lives on Mabul, one of the most popular tourist islands in the waters of Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia. Here more than 1 000 Bajau Laut have their dwellings (some are living on boats) and most of these people lack legal documents. Hence, they are stateless.

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Sulbin and his wife have had seven children, but only two of them have survived infancy. Their youngest child were brought to hospital 2011 even if they were facing risk of deportation to the Philippines. The child didn’t survive and Sulbin and his wife recieved a medical bill for the treatment the child had received – they have to pay the same prize as uninsured foreigners.

On Mabul many Bajau Laut children die of childhood diseases, at the same time as tourists spend time in resorts enjoying the corals and night clubs.

Helen Brunt just completed her dissertation, ‘Stateless Stakeholders: Seen But Not Heard? The Case of the Sama Dilaut in Sabah, Malaysia‘, in which she problematize Bajau Laut’s statelessness and the complications to create well-anchored conversation projects. If people are stateless, how can they be fruitful stakeholders in national parks? First they have to be considered as legal human beings.

Here you can see Sulbin in action:

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