When the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, some said the Bajau Laut survived unscathed. There were rumors that the traditionally nomadic community, an ethnic group of Malay origin, had such good knowledge of the ocean that they had seen the catastrophe coming and they had moved out to deeper water. The tale fascinated British photographer James Morgan, who, a few years later, embarked on an adventure to meet the Bajau. He was especially interested in those who had stayed at sea despite the hardships that had forced most to move ashore. Though only very few remain, he felt that something was in danger of dying out with them: their knowledge of the sea. A knowledge that could play an important role in preserving the Coral Triangle and the world’s oceans.
Roads & Kingdoms: You first heard about the Bajau Laut in 2004. How long did it take you to actually meet them?
James Morgan: It was a long process. First, I got a grant from the Royal Photographic Society here in the UK. Then I learned to speak Indonesian. Then I learned how to free dive. After that, I just went out looking for them. At that stage I wasn’t sure if anyone still lived at sea, so it was a bit of a gamble.