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The Sea Gypsies Of Malaysia

The Sea Gypsies Of Malaysia

The Sea Gypsies Of Malaysia


Frequent visitors to the rig will mostly look into the distance and see network of individuals who live on the sandbanks around the rig. Generally known as ‘sea gypsies’, or ‘Bajau Laut’ or The Sea Gypsies Of Malaysia.

These communities are discovered living in stilt huts and boats, called  as ‘lepa lepa’, across the Celebes Sea. Around they are estimated to be roughly 3000 Bajau Laut, and they form the 2nd largest ethnic group in Sabah, Malaysia

They reside in sizeable minorities living around the towns of Kudat and Semporna in Sabah, Malaysia.

Numerous individuals within these communities pursue a nomadic lifestyle with customs and stories go from age to age orally. A decreasing number will never set foot on land.


Families and lifestyle


Bajau Laut support themselves from the sea. Some are master free divers and anglers with their kids having their ear drums pierced so that they don’t burst when they are diving or spearfishing further in their life.

Numerous Bajau Laut have physically adjusted to immense and repeated free diving and are able to see further in underwater, and stay submerged for extensive stretches of time.

Historically, some Bajau Laut have engaged in destructive fishing techniques. However recently, they are encouraging more sustainable fishing techniques among Bajau Laut communities.

For those Bajau Laut who pursue old traditional lifestyle, a single family often live on a houseboat. The houseboats are mostly anchor at fixed points (usually of cultural significance or near fresh water) which are directed over by an elder.

Generally they will not sail more than 40 KM from their ‘home’ anchor point. Extended families will live on flotillas of houseboats and meet up together during fishing expeditions and ceremonies.

Bajau Laut has a complex and mind boggling relationship with the ocean. Some believe that the currents, tides, reefs and mangroves contain spirits, while others pursue the Islamism.

So, on your next adventure to or from the rig, or as you sip a drink from the sundeck and look out into the distance and see tiny communities living on the sea, we hope to have provided a small amount of information that helps explain who those people are.

They are ‘The Sea Gypsies Of Malaysia’.


For more information visit Malaysia DMC.

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