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.
NO REGULAR INCOME
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.
MIGRATING TO LAND
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.