Bajau: nomadic people who spend their live at sea

Today we go to southeast Asia, in the triangle between Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to discover a fishing tribe. In the past, the people of the Bajau community were real nomads who lived on boats and moved constantly, living on the riches offered by the sea. Today, most of them have decided to settle in the villages on stilts, continuing to live by fishing and few of them still live on the boat-houses known as “lepa lepa” reaching the coast only in case of need, for example to repair their boats or for trade. Currently, the Bajau live thanks to the fish trade supplying the Hong Kong industries; unfortunately, the increasing demand on seafood has led to the introduction of dynamite and potassium cyanide to facilitate the fishing catch. This strategy not only damages the ecosystem, but also causes serious accidents and mutilations to the nomadic people. For this reason, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is committed to showing leaders “how a healthy ocean fosters economic development” and to teaching sustainability to all the fishing communities “to protect the resources they depend on”. 

The true origin of this people is still unknown, but the sea nomads continue to hand down their traditions from generation to generation. The Bajau have lived in symbiosis with the ocean for decades and spend 60% of their existence in the water, that is why they are also known as fishmen. Their ability to dive to depths of over 80 meters without breathing for some minutes is truly extraordinary, they fish without any specific equipment but a pair of wooden goggles and a set of weights. 

Their great diving ability aroused curiosity in many researchers who have undertaken some studies to understand something more about this special skill. The “Centre for GeoGenetics” in Copenhagen has revealed that the Bajau living conditions have led to a genetic mutation, in fact their spleens are 50% bigger than those of other communities and this improve the breath holding while diving. The research team, thanks to the DNA samples, also found that Bajau people have a variant in their genes. 

The little Bajau children learn to swim and to get food by holding their breath in the earliest years of their lives. Their abilities had already been described by Antonio Pigafetta who was fascinated by this nomadic people he met more than 500 years ago when he travelled to southeast Asia. Just a few years ago Bajau showed the whole world their strength and determination by surviving the 2004 tsunami. We hope that, in the future, the Bajau will be able to continue to hand down their traditions to the future generations. 

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