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Date [ 2015-03-10, 13:40 ]
 
Tears of Bajau, the gypsies in the ocean, Part 1

 (Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) Kim Kyoung-Tae = This side of East Malaysia has stretches of sea and white sandy beaches under swaying palm trees. Colourful tropical fish and vibrant coral shimmer in the transparent waters of the Celebes Sea.
East Malaysia's charms are now widely known to people around the world, especially to divers and nature lovers. But it also draws vacationing families and honeymooners as their dream destination. In particular, Sabah, holding Southeast Asia's highest peak, Mount Kinabalu, has now grown in popularity. 
Sabah has some of the largest indigenous groups. Of these, the KadazanDusuns are mainly engaged in agriculture. The Bajau and Muruts on the other hand live off the sea with fishing as their main occupation. The Bajau accounts for 15% of the population of Sabah. Being nomads for a long time, they have also come to be known as ' Sea Gypsies.’ 
Koreanpress spent some weeks with the Bajau to learn their way of life and how they are struggling to preserve their own culture. We thus spent some time exploring the areas surrounding Tawau, Semporna and the many off-shore islands. 
 
“Minta Duit! Minta Duit!” 
Life and survival of the Bajau 
 
To begin our quest, I made a flight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Tawau in Sabah. The flight took about 2 hours 40 minutes, There were many divers and tourists who took up most of the seats. 
From Tawau Airport a taxi ride of RM95 will get you in an hour to the port town of Semporna. Reasonable accommodation can be found at the pier with the nearest being the Semporna Dragon Inn' Hotel. The other is the Sea Fest Hotel. Accommodation with breakfast for a day can cost you RM105-120. To get to the islands, one can leave as an individual by hiring a small motor boat or in a group.
You may be interested to explore Semporna and can start with the boisterous hustle and bustle of the fish market at the harbour. But be warned, the entrance smells with rotting fish that can assail your nose. Bajau people fish from early morning and visit the Semporna fish market to barter or sell their fish and get their daily necessities.
My first day, early in the morning, I begin my trip to Mabul Island which is the most civilized of the 13 islands, such as Sipadan, Kapalai and Bohey Islands. Small motorboats sped down the green bay as I leaned my body over the bow. The scorching sunlight reflected like crystals on the calm waters. Shoals of flying fish bounced of the waves and an agar-agar farm of the Bajau was upon us soon. 
A little away from Mabul Island we stopped the engine and rowed the boat gently to get across the low depths of the reefs. The sea looked beautiful and crystal clear and showed the coral reefs and tropical fishes down there. The waist deep sea continues almost 1 km before it reaches the island. The Bajau built their stilt homes over the water in this zone of the reef zone to avoid external contact and prevent big ships breaching on them.
Finally when we reach the beach, the view of a fantastic resort built upon the waters spread in front of our  eyes. 
As soon as I stepped on the white beach, children came in crowds and followed us all the time shouting, “Mintaduit! Mintaduit!” In the Malay language, this meant “Give me some money.”
Just beyond these children we could see few groups of Bajau, including more children and ladies gathered with serious faces to play ‘tikam’, a sort of gambling game. They could have had difficulties and hit with confusion from the huge changes that the tourism boom had brought into their lives on this beautiful island of theirs. It was bitter scene to see these begging children and the ladies gambling away. This was something we had not expected to see earlier.



 
Rich or poor Bajaus in Mabul
 
The Bajau mostly lead a isimple life that is centred around fishing. Their day starts with packing a lunch and setting out to fish all day. Then carrying the catch to the Semporna Fish Market and possibly earning RM30-50 a day to get their staple food. The Bajau women while waiting for the return of the men, do the laundry, cooking and taking care of the children. Thus taking a nap is a luxury.
On the other hand, the benefits of civilization have awakened some of the Bajau. They have realized there is good revenue from their marvel tuna, octopus, lobsters and sharks. The other option is employment in tourism and this means working at the resort. The Mabul Island Bajau are much better off economically than those of the other islands. They own easy-to-use electric appliances in their houses and use motor boats made in Japan or America, dress quality wear and hold personal cellphones. 
The ladies use branded make-up and lipstick, just like ladies in the cities. instead of ‘dry barack’ which is a natural face power made from the algae, There is the question of how much will the Bajau fully embrace modern civilization? There are still numerous Bajau Gypsies living without enjoying the benefits of civilization. This is a very subjective issue as it involves comparing modern civilization and their traditional way of life. Sometimes it may be better to live close to Nature. Many Bajau would count it as a blessing. / john@koreanpress.net
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Tears of Bajau, the gypsies in the ocean, Part 2 (2015-03-11 13:55:00)
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