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Home » Togean Island » The Bajau : The Story of the Sea Gypsies around Sulawesi and across Indonesia

The Bajau : The Story of the Sea Gypsies around Sulawesi and across Indonesia

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  1. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island

  2. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island

  3. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island

  4. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island4

  5. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island

  6. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island6

  7. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island7

  8. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island8

  9. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean1/Togean Island

  10. Pulau Enam/ Enam Island

  11. Pulau Pangempa

  12. Pulau Pangempa

  13. Pulau Pangempa/Pangempa Island

  14. Taman Nasional Kepulauan Togean/Togean Island

 

Overview

The Bajau – also spelled Bajo - are born and live at sea. They have acertain resilience about them, which is most likely due to having the sea as such a large part of their history. This tribe has earned the nickname of the People of the Sea, or the Sea Gypsies, and for good reason. For the most part, they are sustained completely by the ocean, but not stopping there, this tribe lives on the ocean as well. Although today many are adapting and beginning to live on land, still the tribe’s dependence on the sea is not lost. Their children are introduced to the sea at a young age – many are even born at sea - and grow accustomed to living and playing among the ocean environment. Due to living so close and among the water, the Bajau have become well skilled in the marine ecosystem and farming.

To experience and see for yourself the way these unique people live you can visit the Togean National Park in Central Sulawesi. You are likely to see rows of houses along the coast, making up small villages which are located in the shallow seas surrounding the islands. That settlement is  inhabited by the Bajau which are known in this area as the people of the sea, or orang laut.  

Although many are now settled in modest homes they still remain inseparable from the sea.  At the Togean National Park you may interact with them and hear their stories about the simplicity of their lives and how they survive at sea.  Establishing permanent homes and making villages would probably never have happened if it had not been encouraged by the local government.

You will see their houses supported by long wooden stakes which provide a foundation that separates and keeps the homes from the brunt of the waves and the sea water at high tide. These houses usually have thatched roofs, thin wooden walls with a very small living area inside. Each house is usually occupied by one family but at times they house more than one. There are also small wooden boats scattered in their marine “front yard”.  

By building houses and settlements around the island, they have better and easier access to education and medical needs thus the children of these tribes are expected to be more secure, leading to a better future. Even so, the head of the family will still usually spend most of his time out at sea, much like the head of a farmers' family will spend his days out in the fields. The role of a Bajo housewife, besides taking care of the household and children, is also helping her husband with processing the fish catch from that day or weaving and repairing nets. When passing through this small village of sorts, you will catch the strong smell of the fish laid out to dry in the sun.

The main livelihood of the Bajau  is fishing. The Bajau fish in traditional ways, such as net fishing, archery, and catching fish directly by hand. The fish will be sold to residents along the coastal aresa or other nearby islands.

Several of the Bajau tribes now recognize and practice certain product cultivation techniques with animals other than fish, such as lobster, grouper, shrimps,  to name a few. They usually have their cultivation spots near to their village in the form of a floating pond of sorts. A small part of the Bajau tribe has already made permanent homes with cement and glass windows. Many of Bajau children also attend school, going all the way up to college. This indicates that their awareness of the importance of education has begun to rise.

The Bajau tribe has been affectionately referred to as sea nomads, boat people, or Sea Gypsies,  because for as long as people can remember they have been loyal sea adventurers who live their entire lives on boats. They sail, moving from one region to another. The boat is their home as well as a means for fishing in the sea, which is their equivalent to a harvest field. The fish they catch will be sold to residents in the surrounding coasts and islands. This is the origin of the people they called the boat people or sea nomads. They now live scattered around many islands in Indonesia such as around Sulawesi, East Kalimantan, West Nusa Tenggara, Moluccas, and Papua. The wide-spread distribution of the Bajau around the archipelago is due to their way of life, which is always being on the move.

The Bajo tribes, scattered in many places among the  Indonesian archipelago have branched over even to neighboring countries including to  the Philippines and Thailand. One common factor that all the Bajau tribes have regardless of their location is their language. They all communicate in the mother tongue of the Bajau tribe. The Bajau language has many similarities to Tagalog, the language spoken in the Philippines.  

Besides living around the Togean National Park, the Bajau or Bajo tribe are found in almost every province of Sulawesi. South Sulawesi, is the main Bajo tribe settlement in the Bajo Village, in the Bone Regency. The Bajo in this region live in the area along the coast of the Bone Gulf as they have for hundreds of years.

In Central Sulawesi, the Bajo occupy primarily Siatu Island, Bomba Island, Kuling Kenari Island, Tumbu Lawa and more. In Gorontalo, the Bajo have settled along the coast of the Tomini Gulf, in the Torosiaje village, in the Pohuwato Regency, and also at Tanjung Bajo in the Boalemo Regency.

In Southeast Sulawesi, you can also find the Bajo tribes dwelling quietly along the coasts of Konawe and Kolaka. The Bajo tribe in the Bangko Village, Baginti District, on Pulau Muna, has existed since the 16th century. Scattered tribes also live on Kabaena Island, Wolio Island, Buton Island, and the Wakatobi island cluster (Kaledupa, Kapotta, Tomea and Binongko,).  

Bajo tribes have also settled in East Nusa Tenggara, from the Manggarai Regency to East Flores. One citiy which is known as a popular stopping point on the way to the Komodo National Park is named Labuan Bajo, whose name is derived from the Bajo tribe itself.  

The Bajo also gather in the area around Pulau Komodo and Rinca. Bajo tribal settlements can be encountered in the regions of Balauring, Wairiang, Waijarang, Lalaba and Lewoleba. Far to the east, as far as West Timor they have settled on the island of Adonara (Meko, Sago and Waiwerang), Solor Island, Alor and Timor. They have lived there for hundreds of years and live in harmony with the other locals.

In the area of West Nusa Tenggara the Bajo tribe built settlements on Medang Island. Bajo tribes also live on the island of Lombok, inhabiting a village in the district of Labuan Haji, East Lombok. While on the island of Sumbawa, they can be found on  Moyo Island and surrounding areas as well as several areas of Bima in eastern Sumbawa.

On the island of Madura, East Java, spcifially in the Kangean Islands, you can also find Bajo tribes. There are also settlements on Sapeken Island, Pagerungan Besar, Pagerungan Kecil, Paliat, and other surrounding islands. In this area the Bajo live together with the local ethnic groups of the Madurese and the Bugis.

Today, the number of ethnic Bajo who have built houses on dry land and have begun to settle is growing. Reportedly the number of Bajo who still live completely on boats is decreasing. Nevertheless, they still remain an integral part of ocean life.

The uniqueness of the Bajo tribes has encouraged many people to learn more about the origin, lifestyles, customs, art and traditional culture of this tribe. Indonesia's young filmmaker, Kamila Andini, has even made a film elevating the lives of the Bajo tribe in the natural Wakatobi setting. "The Mirror Never Lies" is the title of the film and the film went on to win an award at the Bandung Film Festival (FFB) in May 2012. Kamila Andini was also named best director FFB for this film. Without a doubt, the existence and uniqueness of the Bajo tribe is an amazing addition to the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of Indonesia.

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The Bajau : The Story of the Sea Gypsies around Sulawesi and across Indonesia

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