They can walk and hunt on the sea-bed holding their breath for five minutes. Their eyes have adapted to focus underwater. Illiterate, poor but resourceful, they used to roam freely around tropical seas between Borneo, Indonesia and Philippines. Today, their living space shrinks with every passing day.
The history of the Badjao tribe from Malaysian part of Borneo, goes far beyond 18th century when bigger population arrived from South Philippines. At that time, some of them, still made a nice living from piracy. They are natural seafarers and many live their lives in houseboats (badjao laut) which occasionally cluster in moorings near certain islands. On the shore, they fetch drinking water, gather firewood and materials needed for the construction and for repairing of their houseboats. Some of them live around the islands in the simple houses on stilts (badjao pulau).
The fascinating world of the Badjao is literally disappearing before our eyes. Born at the sea, they very often, have no ID’s and no citizenship, hence no government support. Officials and businessmen, developing luxury (fenced) tourist resorts would like see Badjao removed from the small paradise islands to the controllable city slums. Those left at the sea face difficult competition with big fishing vessels, forcing them to dive deeper and farther just to land a decent catch. As the Badjao got driven away from their natural hunting grounds where they fished and hunted in full and instinctive concordance with nature, they increasingly turn to harmful (officially forbidden) dynamite fishing and dangerous compressor diving.