For a Living Ocean

Semporna – Renassiance of the Houseboat

At year-end, I and photographer Andreas Ragnatsson went to the Philippines and Malaysia to meet Sama Dilaut. In Davao, the Philippines, we spearfished with superb divers. In Semporna, Malaysia, we visited the islands of Bodgaya, Mabul, Sibuan and Maiga and talked to them who are still living on their “lepa” houseboats.

 

 

Different groups of Sama Dilaut

Sama Dilaut in Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia can be divided into four groups, of which today only two are living on boats. The northernmost group is Sama Dilaut from Zamboanga, Basilan and Jolo, who are generally known as “Badjao” in the Philippines . They live today scattered over large parts of the Philippines, (eg, Davao, Manila, Cebu) where they fled after unrest in the Sulu Sea. None of them live on house boats today, but many still make a living from fishing and live along the shorelines.

The largest group of boat nomads is Sama Dilaut from Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines . Most of these, however, have fled to Sabah, Malaysia, where many still live on their house boats. Today, there are no nomads left in Tawi-Tawi because of the unsecure situation in the region. Many Sama Dilaut house-dwellers in Semporna told me that they want to return to their boat-dwelling lifestyle, which make them more mobile and give them better fishing opportunities. For many it is only a matter of money – if they would afford it they would build a houseboat and return to the sea.

A closely related group to Sama Dilaut of Tawi-Tawi is Sama Dilaut of Sitankai, Philippines, that used to live on the sea. Many of these people came to Semporna in the 60’s on their houseboats where they established the village Bangaw Bangaw. Today all of them live in houses

The fourth group is Sama Dilaut of Indonesia, who generally are called Indonesian Bajau. They speak a slightly different dialect than their  relatives in the Sulu Sea but most words that are related to the sea are identical, as for example “amessi” (hook-and-line fishing), “amana” (speargun fishing) and “amosaj” (to paddle). Indonesian Bajau live over large parts of Sulawesi and even as far south as Flores. Today, only few Indonesian Bajau live on house boats and the number decreaces. Only ten years ago many Indonesian Bajau were boat-dwellers along the eastern coast of Sulawesi (eg, Lasolo) but today there are only few nomads in the Togian Gulf left.

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3 responses

  1. Awesome! Illuminating post, thanks for all the info. I’m hoping to write an article and photograph some of the boat-dwelling Bajau, but I’m having trouble locating a nomadic community. Any tips or leads?? It would be vastly appreciated. I’m in the Philippines now, but can travel to Malaysia or Indo if you know where I can find a nomadic group. Thanks again!

    February 11, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    • Dear Backpackology! Nice to hear that you are planning to meet the Bajau Laut. I don’t think that there are any boat nomads left in the Philippines … they are too afraid of living in the houseboat there. However, there are many boat nomads in Sabah, and particularly Semporna, so I suggest you to go there. You can try with Labuan Haji (close to Semporna town), Mabul (the other side) and Maiga. You can also find small groups of nomads in Indonesia (Togian Gulf, Sulawesi) but it is more difficult to get there. Good luck!

      Regards,
      Erik

      February 14, 2014 at 10:06 am

  2. Pingback: Discover the Beauty of Tawi-Tawi Part 6 | Travel to the Philippines

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