Project Detail: Citizens of free world


LuganoPhotoDays 2015 Open




Yew Kiat Soh



Project Info

Citizens of free world

Malaysia, the country of multi-ethnic and multicultural.

Today, Sabah is the only state in Malaysia which has the Sea Bajau. As a marginal group, who is also being left out in the modernization in Sabah.

The Sea Bajau, grouped as the sea-nomad and nomadic boat people were also called ‘sea gypsies’, comes from a Bajau family who are still practicing nomadic lifestyle. They may be among the last surviving communities of sea-nomad in the world.

They are boat dwellers who roam the Coral Triangle (a triangular expanse of tropical marine waters encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste). They are best known for their ability to free-dive, plunging to depths of 10 to 20 meters for 5 minutes at a time to hunt fish and others seafood. They spend their entire lives surrounded by sea and education is about learning how to battle the storm and filling their stomach with whatever they could hunt from the sea.

Due to humanity and support to UN’s peace commitment, the Sabah government has given this privilege to this ethnicity by not sending back or displaced them like the illegal immigrants and political refugees and they can ‘wander’ freely on the Malaysia-Philippines waters. In other words, these unsolved matters relating to their citizenship and status have categorized them as ‘stateless people’ and not as the illegal immigrants or political refugees.

Since formation of the federation of Malaysia in 1963, the majority of the Sea Bajau people choose to abandon nomadic lifestyle and progressively live on land. Sea Bajau as they prefer more to be along the coasts of islands in Sabah because of its stability---safety issue and easy earnings. Although, the Sea Bajau has a close relationship with the Land Bajau, they are still not really welcome by the Land Bajau.

The schooling facilities in Pulau Mabul (Mabul Island), Sabah are only given to local children who have birth certificates and their parents or guardians must have an identity card.

Regardless of citizenship aspect, peace and sustainable development should be humanity’s goals. The children of Sea Bajau should be given formal education by the responsible groups. By exposing them to the education, they will aware their existing and survival.

To the Sea Bajau, the sea is the mother of life. Their life connected to the sea, the sea in their blood.