Sea Gypsies of Sabah

Sea Gypsies of Sabah

Sea Gypsies of Sabah / Born And Living At Sea

Borneo, best known for it’s pristine beaches and ancient, biodiversity-rich rainforests including orangutans and clouded leopards, is also home to a unique community of stateless citizens who are born, live and die at sea.

Traditionally Bajau Laut are a boat-dwelling nomadic group that can be found on the Celebes Sea in the Sabah region of Borneo. The group, known more broadly as Sea Gypsies, live through trading and subsistence fishing. Today their population is diminishing, with many moving to the mainland to seek work.

Their close proximity to the Southern Philippines and the home of the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist network with international links, has seen the movements of the Bajau Laut restricted due to recent kidnappings in the area and associated curfews enforced by the Malaysian Military.

Combine this with ongoing challenges, including a high dependence upon marine resources and depleting trade and food sources. There are also outside pressures for cultural assimilation and modernization, presenting more reasons for many of the local sea gypsies to abandon their culture and lifestyle and move to nearby towns to find work.