BajauDilaut4_CedePrudente (Macaranga)

Fishers For Life

The Bajau Laut communities who live off the coast of Sabah are well-known as fisherfolk. But they have also long been traders, their lives shaping and shaped by commerce. A photo essay with images by naturalist-photographer Cede Prudente.

“..In southeastern Sabah, the Bajau Laut focus most of their fishing activity on coral reefs, submerged coral terraces, associated sandy beaches and tidal shallows.” Coastal foraging cannot support self-subsistence, so they trade marine produce for almost all of their other necessities. –Sather, C., 2006 (Cede Prudente)
“Bajau Laut are commercially-oriented, targeting only aquatic species in demand at nearby markets rather than merely selling the surplus from what they catch.” In fact, they can “aggressively harvest” what they themselves don’t consume. – Akamine, J., 2017 (Cede Prudente)
“Sea cucumbers have been an important commodity among the Sama/Bajau for their livelihoods, identity and fishery culture.” In fact, in the 18th and 19th centuries, they “occupied a central position in the sea cucumber industry that targeted Chinese markets.” – Akamine, J., 2017 (Cede Prudente)
Because of a move to a monetised market for fish and other marine products, once nomadic communities now live largely in permanent villages of stilt houses off islands and coasts. – Sather, C., 2006 (Cede Prudente)

Akamine, J. (2017). “The Role of Sama/Bajaus in Sea Cucumber Trades in the Sulu Sultanate Economy: Towards a Reconstruction of Dynamic Maritime History in Southeast Asia.” Proceedings of the International Conference on Bajau-Sama’ Diaspora & Maritime Southeast Asian Cultures 2016.

Sather, C. “Sea Nomads and Rainforest Hunter-Gatherers: Foraging Adaptations in the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago – The Sama-Bajau.” The Austronesians – Historical and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Peter Bellwood, et al., ANU E Press, 2006.

This is part of our Insight stories on indigenous people and food resilience during the pandemic. Our feature on Orang Asli is here: Back to the Jungle? The Myth of Indigenous Community Resilience.

Reporting for this story was supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

This is part of Macaranga‘s series, ‘Taking Stock’, where we examine how environmental sectors in Malaysia are responding to Covid-19 and a new federal government.