“There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.” Josephine Hart.
If we stopped to think about our significant physical spaces we might discover that a great part of what we think we know or remember is no less than imaginary. We can often concoct a personal geography based on sensations, images or landscapes of places we have never been. What is the relationship between identity and place? Do we really need to limit a space, build walls and put up a flag to reaffirm ourselves? It seems inevitable that in the end identity is forged through the bureaucracy of the collective imagination.
Many of the Sea Badjao people have chosen to remain stateless.
Historically a sea-dwelling nomadic tribe, they have been living on the shores of northeast Borneo for more than 200 years.
As coastal tourism began to bloom in the early 90s, more and more Sea Badjaos were lured away from the ocean, migrating to a life on land with an intention to adapt to modern living and consumption. In that process these stateless people found themselves at a great disadvantage having no access to schooling, healthcare or any kind of recognition by the government. Once nomadic and seafaring people, their traditional way of life has for the most part disappeared as many now live in squalid settlements. Their unique skills in free diving, along with their invaluable knowledge and understanding of the ocean has become less relevant to life on land. Indeed the younger generations are beginning to lose their ability to free-dive to the bottom of the reef to search for fish or pearls.
There are still however Sea Badjao who preserve their special sense of oceanic solitude and liberty by living freely and independently on the sea, away from the rules and restrictions that the landlocked are bound to.
This rapidly disappearing and unique way of life permits us for a brief instant to observe what seems to be an exceptional expression of identity. Why does this particular stateless nation does not require a flag or an exclusive territory? Indeed they appear to desire a form of life that allows them to freely pursue a primal relationship with the planet, living autonomously and independently of any borders.
Just as their identity defies the idea of the state and its laws of exclusive territory, their activity as underwater fishermen appears to also test the limits of human physiology as they walk seamlessly on the ocean's floor. Indeed the Badjao people, in their bond with the sea propose a distinct relationship with the earth and the notion of nation, it's limits and tensions.