Badjao family in a community by the sea
Tawi Tawi, Philippines © Jojie Alcantara, 2012
This Badjao baby caught my eye as I walked carefully on wooden planks stretched across the waters within a cluster of houses built tightly and interconnected by footpaths. The family welcomed me into their community, even though I was a stranger in their eyes, just passing by to document their unique way of life. I took note of their smiling faces, houses on stilts, and their floating boats as vehicles.
An island province in the southwestern tip of the Philippines, Tawi-Tawi is home to the Badjaos, indigenous ethnic groups referred to as “sea gypsies” who inhabit the shores and waters of the Sulu archipelago. Similar to the Samas and Tausugs in building coastal dwellings, the Badjao stilt house stands alone on an expanse of water without bridges to other houses or catwalks to the shore, and is reached only by boat. These houses are constructed from biodegradable materials such as lumber, bamboo and sawali (bamboo matting).
Showing kinship to the sea, they live close to the waters because of their source of livelihood (fishing and barter of sea products), sanitation, ancestral beliefs, and easy escape from enemies (they are non-aggressive people and prefer to flee than fight). Their boats are tied nearby as means of navigation and travel. Though a majority have now become semi-nomadic and stay in coastal settlement clusters, some Badjaos still live in houseboats called lepa. Under constant exposure to the sea and sun, they are mostly dark skinned with blonde hair.