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The 2nd International Confernece on BAJAU/SAMA Diaspora & Maritime Southeast Asian Cultures 23 - 26 March 2017

Theme: Sama DiLaut Migration & Politics; Ritual & Sacred Spaces; Performing Arts (Music & Dance); Heritage & Material Culture; Bajau Sama Language & Literature.

The boats of the Bajau

The Bajau Laut of Sabah, Malaysia are using two types of boats:

1- The Lepa - served as fishing and house boat,

2- The Boggo’ - much smaller, dug-out from solid log.

In the Philippines the Bajau (Sama) use a third type of boat:

3- Vinta boat


The boggo’ is used exclusively inshore, or over shallow water,

The Lepa serves as the main fishing vessel and family home during sea voyages.

The Vinta has a sail with assorted vertical colors that represents the colorful culture and history of the Muslim community



".....According to village informants, the lepa was first made for trade by Sama
Kubang boatwrights and was adopted by the Bajau Laut, apparently replacing earlier
outrigger boats.

Its introduction may have been as recent as the beginning of the twentieth century, although this is not certain. However, photographs taken in Semporna
in the 1910s and early 1920s show only small outrigger vessels (e.g., see Cook 1924 : 120)."

Clifford Sather
Bajau laut boat-building in Semporna



The Bajau of Borneo
2018 Tawau International Cultural Festival
8th April 2018 Tawau Town

The Bajau of Borneo
(The Sea Gypsies of Celebes Sea)

2018 Tawau International Cultural Festival
8th April 2018 Tawau Town

Islands in Celebes Sea are home to several maritime people.

Travelers refers them as the "sea gypsies"

Sea Bajau (Sama Dilaut) is one of these sea-going peoples

Sama Dilaut (Sea Bajau ) live all over the Philippine Sulu Archipelago, Southwestern Mindanao, Sabah in Borneo, East Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Eastern Indonesian islands.

In Borneo Island, Sama Dilaut settled down in Semporna Town and the nearby islands.
They call themselves the Sea Bajau (Bajau Laut) and maintain strong ties with their related communities in Celebes Sea.


Bajau, from old to young, are a colorful, festive and musical people.

They are descendents of royalty in their belief.

This is why they traditionally wear richly colorful costumes made by hand.


In East Coast Borneo, the Bajau Laut, as the Sama Dilaut around Semporna, Sabah/Borneo call themselves,

Last of the sea gypsies: Fascinating images of the nomadic Borneo tribe who spend their lives on the water

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The Southeast Asian island world is home to several maritime communities whose people often are referred to as "sea nomads" or "sea gypsies," names that appeal to the exoticist imagination of Western  travelers.


The Sama Dilaut, one of these sea-going peoples, live all over the Philippine Sulu Archipelago, southwestern Mindanao, Sabah in Borneo, east Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and many of the eastern Indonesian islands.

In East Coast Borneo, the Bajau Laut, as the Sama Dilaut around Semporna, Sabah/Borneo call themselves, have strong ties with their related communities in the Philippines.

Some of these Bajau Laut have maintained their nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle, living in houseboats and only temporarily setting up makeshift huts on small islets in the Celebes and South China Seas.

However, some have become sedentary, living in the stilt houses  "floating villages" that started to grow considerably in Semporna during the 1960s.

“Bajau Laut”: “Sea Bajau.”

Traditionally, the families lived on houseboats, coming ashore only to stock up their water and food supply and to trade with the shore-based communities their  fish for items they needed for daily life on the sea.

Their creed is syncretism of ancestor spirit worship and Sunni Islam: healing rites, annual ceremonies dedicated to specific spirits, and other religious events nearly always include both the invocation of ancestors and spirits, and an Imam’s prayer.

Wherever in the Southeast Asian archipelagos they live, other communities consider the Bajau Laut to be on the social ladder's lowest rungs.

Adding to profound social discrimination and economic poverty, the armed conflict in the Southern Philippine Sulu Archipelago has deprived many Bajau of free access to their "home waters;" a great number of Bajau from this area, impossible to define because of their frequent lack of official citizenship, have fled to the Northern Philippines, Indonesia, or Malaysian Borneo.

Especially in the Northern Philippines' urban areas, they scrape out their living bereft of their two most important possessions—their boat and their mobility.

Sabah's Bajau Laut Community Ready To Embrace Development

By Haslin Gaffor

SEMPORNA, Feb 22 (Bernama) -- At one time, Imai Ulaiman, 50, used to live on his boat at sea but now has resettled on terra firma along with his family at Pulau Bodgaya.

In spite of the initial apprehensions, Imai still went ahead with his decision to end his nomadic lifestyle on the boat with the direction literally set by the winds.

This was the typical life of the Bajau Laut or the Pala'u community who are known as the sea-farers of Sabah.

But what prompted Imai to take the plunge, he told the writer through an interpreter, it is to embrace development for the sake of his future generations.

Imai's family is among the 30 odd families living in the settlement and the sea is still close to their heart.

Their house stands on the sea and the boat still serves them as their main transport mode. The Bajau Laut's change in lifestyle has helped the government and the non-governmental organisations to channel assistance, especially employment opportunities based on marine resources.


Imai made the right decision because he will be among the settlers to partake in a seaweed culture project under the Semporna Island's Darwin Project meant to improve their socio-economic standing.

Under this project, the participants are provided equipment and the know-how in implementing the seaweed culture project.

The Semporna Island's Darwin Project is an initiative to rope in the local community to preserve the marine life especially the corals at the Tun Sakaran Marine Park.

The project took off in 1998 and maintained by the Marine Preservation Organisation with the cooperation of Sabah Parks to preserve the biodiversity around the park by encouraging the sustainable use of the marine resources.

Imai said he is eager to get on with the seaweed culture as it promises regular income for the family.

"At present, we live on the catch and coconuts collected from nearby islands. I want to change my present way of life so that my coming generations can enjoy development and they can go to school," said Imai who only speaks in his native language.

Imai lives with his wife, children and grandchildren in two adjoining houses, and the houses are cramped as 15 people are living in them.


The dwellers in the island don't have steady source of income and valuable catch like shrimps and fishes are sold to fishermen or bartered for rice or clothes.

Many from the Pala'u ethnicity still hold strongly to their traditional ways with most without identification documents or formal education. They speak only in their mother-tongue.

Another member of the community who is also seeking the winds of change is Injalmani Masewani, 50, who is also eager to participate in the Semporna Island Darwin Project.

"I cant wait to get on with this project as it promises a bright future for the whole family and free us from the shackles of poverty," said the father of nine.


It is estimated that at present there are only about 150 Pala'u families in the district who still live on boats. The major Pala'u settlements in this district is at Kampung Labuan Haji, Pulau Bum-Bum and Kampung Bangau-Bangau. Many live in homes built under the Hardcore Poor Housing Programme.

The Bajau Laut community in Pulau Bodgaya has been offered the seaweed culture project as it has proven successful in several coastal districts.

The seaweed culture activity is a viable income generator for the locals and is helping to enhance Semporna district's economy as the leading seaweed producer in Sabah. In this district the seaweed culture project has already been implemented in Pulau Selakan, Kerindingan, Bum-Bum, Sebangkat, Sibuan, Pababag and Omadal.

The project has transformed the lives of the settlers in the village and they are now no longer left out from development.




The Bajau people came from 2 tribes : 1)  Bajau tribes of Kota Belud and 2) Bajau Laut tribes of Semporna

The Bajau tribes of Kota Belud are known for horse-riding while the Bajau Laut tribes of Semporna are known for their seafaring skills.

Bajau Laut tribes are known as the sea gypsy people like other island people of the Pacific Ocean in southern Philippines and other small islands.

For many years Bajau Laut lived in the ocean on make-shift house boats. Only in recent years they made settlements on coastal area with houses built on stilts. The ocean is still their main source of living - fishing, collecting clams and mussels, and pearl farming in Bodgaya Island and Boheydulang Island.

Traditional Festival Costume of Bajau Laut tribes (sea gypsy people) of Malaysia

Bajau Laut (Sea Bajau) traditionally lived  on house boats. Recent years they made settlements on coastal  houses on stilts. The sea is still their main source of living.


 August 11, 2018 01:45:48 AM

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