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    BAJAU

     
    The term Bajau is applied to a variety of seafaring peoples whose scattered settlements extend across the South China Sea. They live primarily from the Philippine Islands to the large island of Borneo, and from Sulawesi and the Little Sunda Islands of Indonesia to the Mergui Islands off southern Myanmar. Today, only a small number of Bajau are boat dwellers, or "Sea Gypsies." Their numbers have declined rapidly during the last century. The Bajau of Indonesia live primarily on the islands and in the coastal districts of Sulawesi. They generally live in settlements near Manado, Ambogaya, and Kendari; on the Baggai, Sula, and Togian Islands; along the straits of Tioro; in the Gulf of Bone; and along the Makassar coast. The outward spread of the Bajau seems to have been associated with the development of a sea trade in trepang (a sea slug), which is known as a Chinese delicacy. Among the decreasing number of boat dwellers, local Bajau communities consist of scattered groups composed of families whose members regularly return to a common anchorage site. Such communities are generally organized around smaller family alliance groups. These are usually comprised of two to six closely related boat dwelling families. Their members regularly fish and anchor together, often sharing food and pooling labor and resources. Relationships are maintained through intermarriage and frequent visits between groups. Each houseboat usually shelters a nuclear family, plus one or two additional family members, averaging a total of five or six persons. The family becomes both a domestic group and an independent economic unit. The houseboats vary in size and construction. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they average about ten meters in length and two meters wide. All of the boats are equipped with roofed living areas made of mats supported by poles. They also have portable clay hearths that are used for preparing family meals. The marine life exploited by the Bajau fishermen includes over 200 species of fish. Fishing activities vary with the tides, winds, currents, migrations of fish, and the monthly lunar cycles. During moonless nights, fishing is often done by lantern, using spears and hand-held lines. The catch is usually preserved by salting or drying. Today, fishing is primarily for market sale. Historically, nomadic boat-dwelling communities were without land or other property ashore, except for small burial islands. In addition, community members were allowed access to sources of fresh water, usually a well or spring, and were given the use of the immediate shoreline. The boat dwelling Bajau see themselves as non-aggressive people. As a result, the politically dominant groups of the region have historically viewed the nomadic boat dwelling Bajau with disdain, considering them timid, unreliable subjects. The Bajau are Sunni Muslims of the Shafiite branch. Claims to religious piety and learning are an important source of individual prestige, and salip (descendants of Mohammed) are shown special honor. Variations of Islamic practices are associated with the relative status of different groups. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, some of the Bajau lack mosques and must rely on the shore-based communities for this. Among the boat-dwellers in particular, community spirit mediums are assembled at least once a year for a public seance and nightly trance dancing. In times of epidemic illness, the mediums are also called upon to remove the spirits causing illness from the community. They do this by setting a "spirit boat" adrift in the open sea beyond the village or anchorage site.
     

    Source: Joshua Project