the bajau laut are some of the world’s last true sea normads, living as they have for centuries almost entirely in the waters of the coral triangle (“the amazon of the seas”) on long boats known as lepa lepa.
hunters of fish, pearls and sea cucumbers, the bajau people free dive to depths of 20 meters, hold their breath for up to three minutes, and spend up to 60% of their time in the water submerged – the equivalent of a sea otter. it is a common practice amongst bajau people to intentionally burst their ear drums at an early age to deal with the problem of equalizing.
as photographer james morgan explains, “traditional bajau cosmology – a syncretism of animism and islam – reveals a complex relationship with the ocean, which for them is a multifarious and living entity. there are spirits in currents and tides, in coral reefs and mangroves.” the bajau people, for example, will not spit in the ocean.
in the last few decades, increasingly depleted fish stocks and government efforts have forced many to settle permanently on land and abandon a life of self sufficiency known as cari laut, or ‘searching the ocean’. a dwindling few, however, still choose to live the majority of their lives at sea.