Smoke from the cooking fires sits low on the horizon. Chickens peck and scratch in the pale 6 a.m. light. In Desa Sama Bahari, children in Spongebob pajamas rub sleep from their eyes. Yet, Desa Sama Bahari is not a place you will find on most maps. Or even if you did you may find yourself a little confused. It is home to a unique group of people who live in a pretty remarkable way – entirely over the water.
This village a small portion of a larger group of people know as the Bajo or Sea gypsies. They used to live, work and play entirely on boats, but now many are transitioning to settling in small villages built over the shallow waters off of islands in Sulawesi.
As our boat pulls up to their wooden dock area even their homes give evidence of their fishing and ocean-based lifestyle. Nets and floats hang from porches, boats are tethered to each house with wooden docks and planks connecting to a main pathway.
There are kids everywhere. It is early yet their smiling faces and eager footsteps greet us from most homes. One boy holds a sea gull with string tied around its slim leg. A cuculu bird, they tell me, being trained to use their aerial vantage point to show fishermen where the schools of fish are located.
Desa Sama Bahari is not a solitary place. People are out for the morning cooking, drying fish, and interacting. Their labyrinth of boardwalks both a literal and metaphoric representation of their ties to each other and to the water beneath their feet. The presiding feeling is one of laughter and community, a beautiful and dying legacy of a life structured around the sea.