11 – 15 June

Sibuan Island

Eight years ago, while on a mission to photograph people who lived with the sea for our WWF coffee table book Sulu Sulawesi Seas, we lived with the Bajau Laut for three straight nights in a little houseboat in Pulau Gaya. This experience is indelibly carved in our hearts, and we have the pictures to remind us. There were 15 sea gypsies of all ages, ranging from a grandmother to parents to teenagers to toddlers to a baby, in that 10 x 3 meter wooden boat, and we came in with a guide/translator, our massive camera gear, and sleeping mats that embarrassed us. We were tight as sardines in a can, but we left after tearful goodbyes. It was an incredibly wonderful experience, as they were the gentlest people, with the most beautiful faces.

Modern Bajau wedding inland Semporna

Modern Bajau wedding inland Semporna

With another chance to visit the Bajau again, we requested Nina Ho, our superbly efficient WWF host, if we could spend time with them in Malaysia, wherever they may be. Nina immediately said yes, and as a bonus, mentioned that we were all invited to a modern day Bajau wedding on our second night in Semporna!

2006 winner of Regatta Lepa dancing competition

2006 winner of Regatta Lepa dancing competition

What a treat!!! It was a night of traditional dancing and singing, culminating in two women with full Bajau regalia dancing gracefully, with long silver fingers.

Special guests for a special wedding

Special guests for a special wedding

Our past experience with Bajau was living with them on a houseboat, as true sea gypsies roaming Southeast Asia. They only used to touch land to get water and to bury their dead. A beautiful book of Bajau short stories, The Songs of Salanda, written by an anthropologist H. Arlo Nimmo, shows the romantic image of these people and the difficult but peaceful life they live.

Few remaining Bajau houseboats. Many have settled on solid ground

Few remaining Bajau houseboats. Many have settled on solid ground

Now we noticed very few houseboats. Most Bajau we visited had houses on stilts and some with houses on land, but still, by the sea.

Bajau with houses on stilts in Pulau Gaya

Bajau with houses on stilts in Pulau Gaya

Bajau house on land in Sibuan Island

Bajau house on land in Sibuan Island

We’d like this blog entry to serve as a mini-gallery of faces, which we hope will make you understand why we love photographing them.

Incredibly high swing that needs two people to push and pull to get to a desired screaming height

Incredibly high swing that needs two people to push and pull to get to a desired screaming height

Canoes are like bicycles to every Bajau kid and adult.

Canoes are like bicycles to every Bajau kid and adult.

Enchanting fairy-like features like no other

Enchanting features like no other

I'm totally mesmerized by their beauty

Totally mesmerizing beauty

The star of the shoot applying burak on her face

The star of the shoot applying ‘burak’ on her face

Diana. Like the princess that she is

Diana. Like the princess that she is