- A growing population, the destruction of coral reefs and the loss of traditional fishing methods threaten the way of life of traditional communities in Indonesia whose livelihoods have depended on the sea for generations.
- Among them are the Bajo sailors, nomads of the waters between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, who say their resources are “diminishing day by day”.
- In the Sangihe Islands, northeast of the archipelago, modern nets and outboard motors have replaced the bamboo gear and sampans used by local fishing communities.
For decades, the nomadic Bajo people have roamed the seas of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. But due to pollution, climate change, overfishing and other harmful practices, their way of life is under threat.
“The Bajo population is growing, but the resources are dwindling day by day,” Andar Halim, a member of a Bajo community in Indonesia’s Wakatobi Range, off Southeast Sulawesi province, said in a recent documentary. on the Bajo, entitled The call of the sea.
“Without proper ocean regulation, I’m certain that in the future my son, Halim, won’t be a fisherman like his grandfather.”
The 15-minute documentary, directed by American filmmaker Taylor McNulty, shows how the community of Andar, which previously lived in leppa boats in which they traveled between fishing grounds, changed to floating houses with walls of bamboo and rattan resting on stilts sunk into the seabed.
The Bajo are one of many marine communities whose traditional way of life is threatened by pressures on the ocean and its resources. A 2018 study by the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) found that more than a third of the 1,067 coral reef sites inspected were damaged. Only 70 received a “very good” rating.
Human activities such as blast fishing that lead to pollution and vandalism and removal of reefs are factors.
“Today, many sea-based traditions, especially about ways to fish and use marine resources, are beginning to be eroded by the presence of machinery and technology,” said researcher Alex John Ulaen, retired professor at Sam Ratulangi University in Manado. in a webinar in April.
In Indonesia’s Sangihe Islands, Ulaen said, local fishermen are moving away from traditional fisheries seke fishing gear to net fishing gear on outrigger sampans.
According to a 2014 book about the disappearance of traditional fishing practices in the North Sulawesi province co-authored by Ulaen, fireboat-style outrigger sampans with motors made in the Philippines dominate the fishing scene in the islands. Sanghe.
The pandihe is the main tool of seke, assembled from fine bamboo with rattan. It can measure 1 meter wide and 150 meters long. Once unrolled, it is placed in the water to trap and direct fish to shore. A downside is that it can weigh over 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in water. Another is that it can rip if it gets snagged on a jagged coral reef.
Ulaen, 72, suggested that the Sangihe islanders’ fishing tradition is at risk of extinction, especially on Makalehi Island, which he called in his book “the last bastion of the maneke», the fishing tradition of the community.
“The last set of traditional fishing gear was run over in a major storm in 2010,” Ulaen told Mongabay. “It was never made again. The difficulty was to obtain fine bamboo as the basic raw material. People had to go to the mainland of Minahasa [in North Sulawesi] for that.”
Mohammad Ismail, an official with the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries who works with traditional communities, said the ministry was taking steps to protect 32 such communities in coastal areas and small islands.
Whatever threat sea-based communities face, the ultimate response lies with community members themselves.
In the case of Andar Halim from the Bajo community in Wakatobi, where he has lived in a coastal neighborhood since 2006, his answer is in adaptation.
“We can adapt. We can overcome it if it happens,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.”
Banner image: Bajo women canoeing from the village to a tourist beach. Image by Collin Key via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).