Sea Gypsies of Bajau Laut

The Bajau Laut people are perhaps the most unique community of South East Asia. Living their entire lives on the sea, this group of ‘sea nomads’ floating around the South-Western Indonesian and Filipino waters have inhabited amazing villages built on stilts in the middle of the ocean for centuries.

Due to the increasing threat to marine life in the ocean, many of the Bajau people have had to retire their adventurous ways and settle permanently on land. Although numbers are diminishing, many still call the ocean home and live on boats known as lepa lepa. These guys are expert in free diving, known for going into improbable depths underwater in search of dinner with handmade goggles and spear guns. 

These beautiful pictures taken by James Morgan documents their fascinating lives, portraying their intimate understanding of the ocean waters and their unity with nature. 


Life at Sea

James Morgan

James Morgan

Bajau catch stingrays with nets and spears, using the tail section to make a yellow sting ray curry in Torosiaje, Indonesia

James Morgan

James Morgan

In addition to the nets and lines traditionally used for fishing, the Bajau use a handmade ‘pana’ for spearing their catch.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Amja Kasim Derise cooking dinner at home on his traditional lepa lepa boat. The back of the boat is used for cooking, the middle for sleeping and the front for fishing. Sulawesi, Indonesia.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Life is simple and beautiful for the Bajau children

James Morgan

James Morgan

Home made goggles made from bits and pieces of drift wood or shipwreck

James Morgan

James Morgan

And of course.. the home-made sunscreen too

James Morgan

James Morgan

Compressor diving, often in conjunction with cyanide fishing, remains a common practice amongst the Bajau Laut despite being unsustainable, illegal and highly dangerous.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Catch of the Day

James Morgan

James Morgan

The Bajau still build their mosques over the ocean and practice a syncretic belief system that allows for a deep reverence for the ocean and the spirits that are said to inhabit it. Torosiaje, Indonesia.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Night time prayers at a mosque on stilts over the ocean.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Pak Usrin demonstrates how to make a fertiliser bomb. However, he assured that he stopped bombing reefs back in 2005. Today he gets paid through Reef Check Indonesia to protect his local coral environment.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Ibu Hanisa lost her hands and the sight in one eye when a homemade fertiliser bomb went off in her house.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Pak Lapoli demonstrates using cyanide to catch grouper for the live reef fish trade.

James Morgan

James Morgan

Hand Fishing

James Morgan

James Morgan

Open waters of Bajau community. Borneo, Indonesia

Rehahn Photography

Rehahn Photography


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