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Sea Gypsies in their wonderland 2017

A place I’ll never forget

Si Min Goh


Malaysia is a diverse country.

Today, I am going to talk about a population situated in the east of Malaysia, a population known as the Bajau Laut of Borneo in Semporna, also known as the sea gypsies. The first thing that captivated others about this place where the seafaring population built their wobbly stilt huts right in the sea is the pristine, crystal clear waters. Waters so clear you could see the full depth of the sea down to the sandy soil. There, fish can be visibly seen darting around beneath the surface.

The Bajau Laut made do with the rich resources given by the sea over the years, living without worries and selling seaweed and live seafood if they require some cash. Children giggled and stick out their hands at our boat as we sailed past. They also showed me rows of seashells as we passed by their wooden houses. It was mind opening, as I sat and watched, children took turns to jump into the crystal clear waters directly from the base of their home under the azure blue sky. It was like a scene in paradise played out, where people used to have everything needed given to them by some force.

Landing on an island, I saw some villages who situated their huts there packing strings of seaweed to sell. The children surrounded us and showed me and the people walking by green coconuts they have collected. After requesting for more coconuts, the smiling children brought us to a coconut patch deeper into the island and an older child around the age of 11 started clamouring up a tree in a fluid motion and start cutting down some coconuts in a matter of minutes. It was reassuring to see how much at ease the children were with both the sea and land.

Moving on to another island, we met a village who have built their huts on the island. There were only 12 huts there clustered in a straight row. The village headman told us that even though they have been there for generations, they were only constrained to a certain number of huts due to new regulations passed down from the political party. They were not allowed to build more huts on land anymore. A few rows from the hut, a beautiful couple who have been together since young smiled into our cameras. The man mentioned they are together for at least 15 years and still loved her every day. I sincerely made a wish that the place would remain intact and the land would remain unchanged in the years to come, for the simple people living on their little islands with the coconut trees, surrounded by the pristine waters.

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