Understanding Social Wellbeing and Values of Small-Scale Fisheries amongst the Sama-Bajau of Archipelagic Southeast Asia
The Sama-Bajau represent one of the most widely dispersed Indigenous groups in Southeast Asia. Recent estimates indicate a total population of approximately 1.1 million, with around 200,000 living in areas of high biodiversity in the islands of eastern Indonesia, 347,000 in Malaysia (Sabah) and 564,000 in the Philippines. Sama-Bajau culture is intimately connected to marine environments on which they depend for subsistence and cash income, as well as their cultural identity. Culturally defined patterns of fishing activity (including migratory expeditions) unite all sectors of Sama-Bajau communities through catching, consuming, processing and trading of marine resources. Fishing and gathering of shellfish and other strand resources provide the focus for individual and communal relations within villages and across extensive kin and trading networks. The maintenance and transmission of Indigenous language and knowledge between generations occurs through socialisation into livelihoods and related social and cultural activities. As such, customary beliefs and practices in relation to boats and sea spirits endure among the Sama-Bajau, and are primarily oriented to ensuring return on fishing effort. Sama-Bajau small-scale fisheries (SSF) across insular Southeast Asia therefore present a highly relevant case study. We will explore the dimensions of social wellbeing in the Sama-Bajau context and identify how the Sama-Bajau have responded to endogenously developed and exogenously induced drivers. Utilising our collective experience of Sama-Bajau society in diverse locations across Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, we will discuss the parameters of continuity and transformation in the Sama-Bajau way of life. The case study offers the opportunity to explore how historical and contemporary drivers have contributed to the variability of Sama-Bajau social welfare, spatially and temporally.