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Nationalism FTW and FTL

Marine boy: Enal with his pet shark. Photograph: James Morgan in the Guardian


The Guardian’s The Last of the Sea Nomads is an interesting article on the Bajau, “a Malay people who have lived at sea for centuries, plying a tract of ocean between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.” It contains two points about nationalism:

  • The creation of national myths that instil a sense of togetherness in a group (See Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson). It gives them a sense of being different from other groups and indeed being better than outsiders. (For an example from Gypsy superstition see here).

The origins of the Bajau diaspora are recounted in the legend of a princess from Johor, Malaysia, who was washed away in a flash flood. Her grief-stricken father ordered his subjects to depart, returning only when they’d found his daughter.

The number of Bajau living on traditional lepa-lepa boats (narrow, high-prowed vessels, highly prized among the region’s coastal populations) is dwindling fast, however. Nomadism has always been at odds with the fixed boundaries of the nation state, and over the last few decades controversial government programmes have forced most Bajau to settle on land. Today, many live in stilt villages such as Torosiaje, though the settlement is unique in that it lies a full kilometre out to sea.

It must be said that none of the above is good or bad on its own. It just depends on what they lead to. For instance the first does lead to togetherness and a sense of fraternity which is helpful, but it could also lead to xenophobia and intolerance. History has also shown that the second; the establishment of a modern state with a government over a known population has been on the whole beneficial, but you can also see the effects on the Romani in Europe at this very moment. [The Economist thinks education is the answer].


NB: The article also has what I think is the most… I literally have no words to describe it.

Since diving is an everyday activity, the Bajau deliberately rupture their eardrums at an early age. "You bleed from your ears and nose, and you have to spend a week lying down because of the dizziness," says Imran Lahassan, of the community of Torosiaje in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. "After that you can dive without pain." Unsurprisingly, most older Bajau are hard of hearing. When diving, they wear hand-carved wooden goggles with glass lenses, hunting with spear guns fashioned from boat timber, tyre rubber and scrap metal.

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