“Once upon a time there lived two good neighbors – a fisherman and a farmer. The farmer is known to possess powerful magic while the fisherman is known for his patience and endurance.
One day they had a big fight for reasons that no one knew. In great anger the farmer cursed the fisherman and called upon the sea to rise above the fisherman’s feet. The sea engulfed the fisherman’s village, and only his boat was left. Embarrassed by his defeat the fisherman decided to leave the sunken village in his boat in the middle of the night. All his family members followed without any questions.
The fisherman vowed not to return to his sunken village and not to sat foot in land. He and his family moved from island to island, resting by any river mouths. The sea became their ‘land’ and the boat became their house. Since then they are called Orang Laut – the sea people.”
That was the tale a man recounted when I asked him to introduce his community.
It wasn’t easy getting through to the sea people, and I had to approach the locals living on land. The sea people didn’t live permanently anywhere; they moved all around South East Asia throughout Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and even the island of Singapore.
When I visited Mabul Island in Borneo, I was fortunate that they’d been around the island. There, I found that the sea people were, like the majority of nomads, a problem for these countries. The governments wanted them to settle in a specific country, with IDs and addresses, and to be a part of the society so that their movements could be controlled.
Nonethless, the Orang Laut simply want to be free!
The Orang Laut
- The Federation joined Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo and Singapore, but Singapore left in 1965.
- Caning is a common punishment under Malaysian law. The maximum number of strokes that can be ordered is 24.
- Women are never caned, nor are boys under the age of 10 or men over 50, except for rape.
- The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were the world’s tallest buildings from 1998-2004.
- In August 1997, a model of the Malaysian flag was completed, made out of 10,430 floppy disks. The country’s deputy education minister described this as ‘an event Malaysia can be proud of’.
- The lowest temperature ever recorded in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur was 14.4C (57.9F); the average annual rainfall is 95.5 inches.
- The largest cave chamber in the world is the Sarawak Chamber in Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak, which can easily accommodate a Boeing 747-200.