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Sea legs.
October 6, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Sea nomads. That is all.

more photos on here

sad note at end of article about how changes to fishing techniques and global demand are destroying the coral reef.
posted by sio42 (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pirates and poverty are forcing the Bajau to give up their seafaring way of life.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:22 PM on October 6, 2010


That is all. [more inside]
Do you see the contradiction here?
posted by Wolfdog at 12:22 PM on October 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


When diving, they wear hand-carved wooden goggles with glass lenses, hunting with spear guns fashioned from boat timber, tyre rubber and scrap metal.

Steampunks of the Sea.
posted by exogenous at 12:24 PM on October 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


While I'd like to keep the coral reefs, the culture is absurd.

Since diving is an everyday activity, the Bajau deliberately rupture their eardrums at an early age.

Or, you could hold your nose and blow. I can equalize pressure underwater just by thinking about it, and I'm by no means unique in this capability.

Unaware of the need to restrict their exposure to pressure, countless Bajau have ended up crippled or killed by deadly nitrogen bubbles in their bloodstream.

Dive tables are free, take about an hour to explain how to use, and like riding a bike, you pretty much never forget how to use them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:24 PM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


We will miss you when you are gone: The Moken - related.
posted by adamvasco at 12:29 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Les Stroud recently spent some time with them.
posted by HumanComplex at 12:42 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


No one could ever come between a boy and his pet shark.
posted by me3dia at 12:42 PM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


While I'd like to keep the coral reefs, the culture is absurd.

Presuming that you come from approximately the same culture that I do... pot, kettle.
posted by gurple at 12:43 PM on October 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


In Thailand many years ago I came across people called Water Gypsys. Nomads who apparently lived an entirely water-born existence. They were called something Naam . Generally clothed in red with black belts or cummerbunds tied round the waist
As far as I understand they were similar to these Bajau people.

Not speaking any Thai, I couldn't get much information about them from the locals. Except that they were dying out and had their own music traditions. Never managed to track down any recordings though.

Can Burhanistan or anyone enlighten me?
posted by jan murray at 12:50 PM on October 6, 2010


Yay. Thanks Adamvasco
posted by jan murray at 12:53 PM on October 6, 2010


Les Stroud recently spent some time with them. -- HumanComplex

I have a huge man-crush on that guy. Plus, I actually saw that episode and spent the whole time thanking god that I was on my leather couch with my iPhone4.
posted by MustardTent at 12:54 PM on October 6, 2010


Jared Diamond talks about societies/cultures that make these kind of choices in Collapse. The culture is absurd from the perspective of building a stable society that can thrive.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:06 PM on October 6, 2010


Thank you.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 1:17 PM on October 6, 2010


From an evolutionary standpoint, I find this fascinating.

If this was a viable way of life, one would expect that long before globalization certain groups of people would have formed such nomadic societies and thrived. Given enough generations, the society would develop genetic traits advantageous to the individuals. Given a long enough time, the differences would become noticeable and a new race would be born. I've never heard of a race of people that have unique characteristics that aid them in being nomadic sea dwellers - maybe someone can think of such traits. If there are not such people, I'd have to say that evolutionary history suggests that the comments of others are correct (and not just in modern times) - nomadic sea culture is not successful, no matter what Kevin Costner would tell you.

Still, I rather enjoy the thought of this society evolving into merpeople, or maybe just half-deaf, web footed people with a high tolerance for getting water up their nose.
posted by Muddler at 1:21 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Muddler, I think the problem is that substantial evolutionary changes take place on the scale of millions of years, or at least hundreds of thousands, and cultural changes such as the Polynesian expansions to the various islands was, what, 40-60 thousand years ago? So not enough time.
posted by DetonatedManiac at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2010


I've never heard of a race of people that have unique characteristics that aid them in being nomadic sea dwellers - maybe someone can think of such traits.

“The swimmer who makes the bigger wave is the faster swimmer, and a longer torso makes a bigger wave. Europeans have a three-percent longer torso than West Africans, which gives them a 1.5-percent speed advantage in the pool,” he said.
posted by polymodus at 1:41 PM on October 6, 2010


Or, you could hold your nose and blow. I can equalize pressure underwater just by thinking about it, and I'm by no means unique in this capability.

Valsalva is an inferior way of equalising for deep skin diving, what they should do is learn to do the Frenzel maneuver. (Much harder but more economical of air).
posted by atrazine at 1:54 PM on October 6, 2010


"Given a long enough time, the differences would become noticeable and a new race would be born"

Sounds like "Waterworld" to me!
posted by russmaxdesign at 1:56 PM on October 6, 2010


If there are not such people… suggests that … nomadic sea culture is not successful .

It is a perfectly viable way of life. Viable and widespread adoption are separate criteria. Unpopular things can still be successes; they simply don't scale well, but there is a niche that is being occupied.

Nomadic culture in general is not widespread, either in the desert, or in the sea. Although intuitively, the bounty of the sea has several advantages over life in the desert. The fact that nomads are few raises the hypothesis that nomadic life is difficult/hard to sustain relative to conventional ways of life, but that is a more a consequence in search of a cause.

The article itself suggests a couple times that different ways of life serve to inform each other. Because of this intertwining, it is hard to make a precise judgment about success. Who is to predict that the Bajau people are will not in some way be instrumental in the survival of the human species as a whole? And so, if you can't determine such a prediction, how can you judge the "success" of a way of life.
posted by polymodus at 1:57 PM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've never heard of a race of people that have unique characteristics that aid them in being nomadic sea dwellers

Multiple reasons for this. 1) Humans largely paused on evolution, because their brains allowed them to adapt culturally/intellectually to changing environments.

2) Evolution is slow, with humans being just a sliver in the timescale. Dinosaurs had 160 million years to turn out all sorts of interesting shapes; meanwhile, we've barely taken the first step.

3) Evolutionary pressure is nonexistent. Give the human species a reason to go back to the water, and it will eventually (and hopefully) happen.
posted by polymodus at 2:08 PM on October 6, 2010


the picture of the boy with his pet shark is the most wonderful thing i have seen in years
posted by kitchenrat at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dove Sipadan last year and the waterborne folks have rather large stilt villages in the waters surrounding Semporna and Sipadan. I have a special place in my heart for people who fish with cyanide and dynamite. Have you ever heard dynamite go off while you're fifty feet underwater? Have you ever seen a Napoleon Wrasse split open and on display in a fish market? Fuckers.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:07 PM on October 6, 2010


muddler - your comment really made me laugh!

sorry about the "that is all/more inside" disconnect.

heh heh, i'm gonna be giggling about half-deaf, web-footed, sharks-for-pets, water-up-noses people all evening.
posted by sio42 at 3:19 PM on October 6, 2010


A couple of years ago some scientists tested Moken children and found they were twice as good at seeing underwater compared with Occidental children. They can constrict their pupils really tiny when they dive. Look at the picture. You try and do that voluntarily with your eyes; I sure can't.
posted by dgaicun at 4:23 PM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've never heard of a race of people that have unique characteristics that aid them in being nomadic sea dwellers - maybe someone can think of such traits.
The “Aquatic Ape” theory is, more or less, that humans are that race of people. Lots of the differences between humans and other apes would be adaptive for a species that spends all or most of its time in water (near-shore or rivers, not seaborne merpeople). I've always found it an attractive idea but I gather that actual biologists mostly think it's pretty dubious. There's a lack of archaeological support.


atrazine: I seem to have voluntary control over a muscle that opens my eustachian tubes; I assumed that's what CPB meant?
posted by hattifattener at 11:08 PM on October 6, 2010


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