Sea Nomads: Sama-Bajau Mobility, Livelihoods, and Marine Conservation in Southeast Asia

Natasha Stacey, Edward Allison

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Scattered throughout the islands of Southeast Asia are at least three groups of specialist maritime populations known collectively as the Sama-Bajau, also commonly referred to in academic and popular literature as “sea nomads” or “sea gypsies.” These groups depend almost exclusively for their livelihood and spiritual wellbeing on the highly biodiverse island, coral reef and oceanic environments in the region. This chapter explores the culturally defined living spaces and livelihood behavior of Sama-Bajau, and examines their responses to historical, social, economic and environmental circumstances and changes. The application of labels around nomadic behavior has been misleading, resulting in inappropriate representations of Sama-Bajau. Specifically, such representations have created negative associations around Sama-Bajau in much of the conservation literature, where they are frequently portrayed as “threats.” Such discourse tends to ignore the social complexities of migratory maritime-orientated livelihoods. We highlight the need for a more attentive and culturally informed lens to conservation initiatives in the region and for the role of the Sama-Bajau.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAt Home on the Waves
    Subtitle of host publicationHuman Habitation of the Sea from the Mesolithic to Today
    EditorsTanya King, Gary Robinson
    Place of PublicationGreat Britain
    PublisherBerghahn Books
    Number of pages23
    ISBN (Electronic)9781789201437
    ISBN (Print)9781789201420
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

    Publication series

    NameEnvironmental anthropology and ethnobiology
    PublisherBerghahn Books


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