Who Are The Bajau Laut?

Some Bajau Laut live in stilt houses in coastal shallows while others live on their boats. Editorial credit: muhd fuad abd rahim / Shutterstock.com
Some Bajau Laut live in stilt houses in coastal shallows while others live on their boats. Editorial credit: muhd fuad abd rahim / Shutterstock.com

The Bajau Laut is an ethnic group with a Malay origin. They are considered to be the last true marine nomads. They are from Southeast Asia. They are based on the sea line of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Origin of the Bajau Laut

There are several myths surrounding the origin of the Bajau Laut and their lifestyle. The Bajau Laut is believed to have been leading a normal lifestyle on the terrestrial land before they went on and became sea nomads. While dwelling on land, they were ruled by a king who had a daughter. The myth states that king’s daughter was either carried by floods or she was captured by the rival kingdom and taken to the sea. The Bajau Laut were asked to find her. They left their homes for the mission. On failing to retrieve the princess, they decided on settling in the sea because they were afraid of facing the king’s punishment.

Subgroups of the Bajau Laut

The community is divided into subgroups. Each subgroup leads a slightly different lifestyle from the other. However, they have common traits and lifestyles because they are believed to have originated from the same place. Each subgroup usually has a name, which is often derived from the island that they inhabit.

Lifestyle of the Bajau Laut


Being Sea nomads, the Bajau Laut call the oceans their homes. They mostly dwell on boats that they refer to as lepa-lepa. However, in the recent past, some of them have been forced to establish a permanent settlement. Some of them have complied, and established permanent habitats, while some of them have declined and said that the ocean is their only home.


Being sea nomads, the most dominant economic activity of the Bajau Laut is fishing. In the recent past, since they started living a settled life, they have engaged in a few other economic activities to sustain themselves. However, fishing still dominates. They use fishnets and the boats in their fishing ventures. Alternatively, the Bajau Laut are usually good in sea diving. They dive to deep depths to get sea pearls and other sea ornaments. To enable them to efficiently dive and sea hunt in the sea, some of them do rapture their eardrums at a tender age.


The Bajau Laut does not have one common religion. The religion varies from group to group. The most dominant religion of the Bajau Laut is Islam. There is another group that believes in ancestral spirits which they appease. Another group, mostly composed of the settled Bajau Laut are Christians, either Catholics or Protestants. There is also a minority percentage of the Bajau Laut who are atheists.


The Bajau Laut community is mostly individualistic. The largest association is the clan. The families mostly live as nuclear families. The families are mostly composed of five members. In a few instances, the families can live with a few relatives in their boat.

Music, Dance, Arts and Entertainment

The traditions of the Bajau Laut are passed from one generation of to another through oral traditions. Songs and dance are more popular during wedding ceremonies. The songs and dance are accompanied by musical instruments such as flutes, and xylophone.


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