Ground sickness (on-going project)
An exploration of the Bajau Laut community
The Bajau Laut, a community of people estimated to be around 1 million persons live on the seas between the south-western parts of the Philippines and the north-eastern parts of Borneo. For those still living in the traditional ways, their lives are spent on shallow blue green waters surrounded by paradisiac islands. They are nomads and they are hunters with an exceptional lung capacity. It’s been told that the Bajau Laut can remain for an incredibly long time underwater and that there eye-sight has evolved to better see in the water. Some families still live their whole lives on a boat, they call it a ‘Lepa’. Those Bajau Laut are so much accustomed to be on the water that whenever they go ashore, they can’t stay for too long, because of the ground sickness they experience. Nowadays a lot of Bajau Laut live in small villages made of wooden stilt houses. Eventually when food gets scarce in the area where they currently stay, they move to another more fruitful area.
Modern society, cultural assimilation and political instability has had its toll and forced many of the Bajau Laut to adapt their ancestral customs. They give up their traditional ways of living and join the shores of the mainland in Borneo. There, urban slums, built on the water, are quickly growing. As a consequence of their nomadic lifestyles, the Bajau Laut have never been recognized by any state. They're considered as illegals wherever they go. Without any papers they don't have any legal rights: no access to proper education, work or medical care. In the urban slums where they live, diseases spread quickly, especially amongst the youngest ones. Work is scarce and many children go beg in the streets, a situation that makes them vulnerable. Glue sniffing addiction is a also a common problem amongst teenagers and young adults.
In order to offer some help, a few N.G.O’s have been set up in the region in order to assist the children and provide them with some basic education. Basic makeshift schools have been built where children get to learn malay, english and mathematics. (to be continued).