29 stunning photos of daily life on Malaysia's most remote islands, where 'sea gypsies' live miles away from civilisation

Malaysia250215 10831Réhahn CroquevielleThe Bajau, a native people who live on remote islands off the coast of Malaysia, have depended on the ocean for centuries.

Earlier this year, French photographerRéhahn Croquevielle took a trip to some of Malaysia’s most remote islands in the hopes of documenting the lives of the Bajau, the “sea gypsies” who inhabit the area.

Located off the east coast of the Malaysian city of Sabah, the island of Borneo was Réhahn’s jumping-off point — from there he visited eight small islands that are many miles removed from civilisation.

Some tourists may know this area for its amazing dive sites, but Réhahn saw a completely different side: tiny villages made up of huts built on stilts in the middle of the ocean.

Réhahn's journey to the islands was anything but easy. After a flight to Kuala Lampur, another three-hour flight to Tawau, and an hour-and-a-half bus ride to Semporna, Réhahn set out to find a local who would take him to the remote islands where the Bajau, or 'sea gypsies,' live.

Réhahn Croquevielle

This was harder than he thought. Tour agencies would only agree to take Réhahn to resorts, and most fishermen he encountered along the waterfront spoke no English. When he was lucky enough to find someone who did, the price they asked for the trip was extremely high.

Réhahn Croquevielle

After spending one night sleeping at the waterfront -- a risky move, as there's a history of tourist kidnappings in the area -- Réhahn finally met Karim, a Bajau who agreed to take Réhahn to the remote islands he was hoping to visit.

Réhahn Croquevielle

The Bajau traditionally live in small boats, spending their days drifting in the ocean and relying on fishing to make a living, hence their nickname, 'sea gypsies.'

Réhahn Croquevielle

While some sea gypsies live ashore today, many still live on the water, in floating villages that are built on coral reefs.

Réhahn Croquevielle

The first island Réhahn visited was Tabbalanos, where he was immediately greeted by running children, who were excited to meet a rare foreign visitor.

Réhahn Croquevielle

The Bajau spend the majority of their time in the water. For the children, that means lots of splashing and playing.

Réhahn Croquevielle

And gliding along the water in boats.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Tabbalanos was a small village of about 11 huts.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Karim told Réhahn that each family in the village had about five children.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Bajau women give birth to their children in their huts on the water.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Almost all Bajau spend their whole lives in the same small village where they are born.

Réhahn Croquevielle

All inhabitants -- both young and old -- help out with the fishing.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Age is somewhat of an elusive concept for the Bajau.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Instead of focusing on the future and the past, the Bajau live in the present.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Children learn to dive and swim when they're young.

Réhahn Croquevielle

By around age eight, they're already hunting.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Besides Tabbalanos, Réhahn also visited the Mabul Islands, which include Omadal, Sibuan, Maiga and Tagatan.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Omadal is a much larger village, consisting of 70 families that live in huts built on stilts and connected to each other via bridges. It's an especially tight-knit community.

Réhahn Croquevielle

It was in Omadal that Réhahn saw borak being used for the first time.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Borak is a locally made paste that the Bajau use to protect their skin from the sun.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Borak is made from turmeric, a plant that's part of the ginger family.

Réhahn Croquevielle

It's most commonly smeared on the face.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Good skin is a sign of beauty on these islands.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Single women use borak to help them find a husband.

Réhahn Croquevielle

Mothers use it to protect their children's skin.

Réhahn Croquevielle

While the sea gypsies had next to nothing in common with his life, Réhahn was glad to have met these people and explored their islands.

Réhahn Croquevielle

He felt strong feelings of peace and serenity after spending time with the Bajau 'in the midst of the blue immensity.'

Réhahn Croquevielle

Réhahn says that although they're not recognised as part of any neighbouring countries, the sea gypsies choose to live in 'their own little paradise.'

Réhahn Croquevielle

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