Sea Gypsies


“People cannot live entirely at sea without some access to the land and its products,” writes John Mack in his book The Sea: A Cultural History, and adds:

“Perhaps the closest to the exclusively maritime culture is that of the Bajau Laut, the so-called “sea gypsies” of the waters of south-east Asia. Their life is led almost entirely on boats or in houses raised on stilts above salt-water estuaries, exploiting the resources of the surrounding lagoons and reefs and moving goods from place to place. There are very few occasions on which they are obliged to set foot on terra firma.”

John Mack. The Sea: A Cultural History. 2011

Bajau people is a nomadic tribe without citizenship. Their state is the sea. Bajau children don’t go to school. Their classroom and playground is the sea. Smiling sea gypsies don’t really know, how old are their elders and how young are their young ones. They don’t use calendar, but watch the stars and observe changing seasons to know, but not record, that another year has passed. They live in the continuum of present moments and in harmony with cycles of nature.

Born to free dive, they catch fish to feed their big families. Bajau bring the catch to nearest fish markets too. With money they make they can buy medicine, as they avoid hospitals; and also many Western goods – bright colored clothes, make-up for the Bajau girls and all those guilty tummy pleasures. But not out of necessity of course. The sea provides all they need to lead a happy life. They eat and sleep at their crowded boat houses and always look so harmonious and filled with love they share with their family.

The love floats around them in turquoise.

Some of Bajau people are beginning to settle on coast and find jobs in the city. But many still stick to the traditional nomadic lifestyle – they stick to the sea. Sea gypsies never bury their dead ones at sea, only on land, always. The sea is a celebration of life.

I borrowed that beautiful picture above from the French photographer Réhahn. Please do visit his page to see many more moments of these mesmerizing marine people:



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  1. There’s a similar ethnic group in my country(Philippines), Badjao, who dwells in the southern part of the archipelago, though i think they are of the same group who ply the ocean of Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. I’m set to see them mid year this year, hopefully. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s something so idyllic both about their lifestyle and the wonderful photograph you’ve chosen, although I am aware that I’m just an outsider looking in. Southern China has the Tanka, although they traditionally live on junks. Now though, they’ve begun to slowly assimilate onto land. Funny how each culture seem to have their own variant of a “sea gypsy”, and it’s always interesting to read about them!

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    • You’re right! I read about Tanka and some other sea gipsies too, not only Bajau. Almost every culture have their own sea gipsies, how true! I also believe that it is an outsider – to think hey are living a carefree life. I believe it’s not that simple. But we definitely can learn at least something from them. The photographer, who visited them, said, he returned more serene. Funny, maybe it’s just a change of perspective – who live on junks, full of material goods and clutter. Anyway – I really loved to see in documentaries, how connected they are with the sea, those kids just play around on boats, they jump and swim, it seems so natural to be there – in the middle of the sea.


  3. How wonderful this must be. I recently saw the people of Lake Inle in Burma, who also live on water. They have stilt houses, weave cloth from lotus silk, have floating farms and seldom set foot on solid land.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this, what an interesting culture and way of life. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Seriously, is this beautiful or what? I actually have friends who are real Gypsies, Travellers or Romanichal as they prefer to be called. Very generous and loyal people. It’s an honor to be considered their friend. Love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

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