indonesia travel magazine

Flores, Bajau, Fisherman’s house

Flores, Fisherman’s house, Bajau



While most Bajau have begun to live in houses built on stilts in shallow water, some Bajau are boat dwellers. Among the Bajau boat dwellers, local communities consist of scattered moorage groups made up of families whose members regularly return, between intervals of fishing, to a common anchorage site. Two to six families will group together in an alliance to regularly fish and anchor together, often sharing food, nets and gear and pooling labor. The marine life exploited by the Bajau fishermen is diverse, including over 200 species of fish. Fishing activity varies with the tides, monsoonal and local winds, currents, migrations of pelagic fish and the monthly lunar cycle. During moonless nights, fishing is often done with lanterns, using spears and hand lines. Today, fishing is primarily for market sale. Most fish are preserved by salting or drying. In some cases turtles are caught and kept under the house until an appropriate feasting time (such as the marriage of a son) – to the chagrin of marine conservationists. The boats that are used as family dwellings vary in size and construction. In Indonesia and Malaysia, boats average 10 meters in length and 2 meters in width. They are plank construction with solid keel and bow sections. All are equipped with a roofed living area made of poles and straw matting and a portable earthenware hearth, usually carried near the stern, used for preparing family meals. The boat-dwelling Bajau (in contrast to their neighbors) see themselves as non-aggressive people who prefer flight to physical confrontation. As a consequence, the politically dominant groups of the region have historically viewed the Bajau with disdain as timid, unreliable subjects.

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