Living on Water

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The Bajau people of Malaysia live their lives completely at sea, living in wooden huts and spending their days fishing. Sailing over crystal clear waters, the Bajau people of Malaysia live their lives almost entirely at sea.

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Children as young as four catch fish, octopus and lobsters from handmade boats off the eastern coast of Sabah, Malaysia. Along with their families, they live in wooden huts on stilts and trade their seafood for necessities with islanders in the nearby town of Semporna.

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Photographer Ng Choo Kia joined the Bajau people on their pirogues, which are long narrow canoes made from single tree trunks, and documented their daily life in a series of pictures.

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The 43-year-old, of Penang, Malaysia, says: “The Bajau people are refugees from the Philippines, who now choose to live at sea for their whole life. They visit the land only briefly in order to trade fish for rice, water and other staples. The Bajau children are all ferocious in catching fish and octopus, as fishing is their main source of income.

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Every day the children get on their handmade pirogue, and equipped with a net and lance, they go off on the search for food. The children have no opportunity to go to school, so there are no future prospects for them”.

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As refugees, the Bajau people are not allowed to live on land, and so have built wooden huts out at sea. During the day, they fish and sail around the coast, looking to sell food, before returning to their huts as soon as the sun goes down.

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Choo Kia says: “When most people see these photographs they are attracted by the unique scene and the lifestyle these people are living. However, in my opinion this is a situation that should be controlled. The children should be educated on topics like the environment and hygiene, and I personally do not encourage people to grow up there”.

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