Stephen Dare: Matt, how do we describe you and your work?
The walls of most houses in Sampela are made from woven rattan; the windows are too. As the roosters wake up—around 4:00am—it’s difficult not to join them. When the tide is up in the morning, people glide by in their canoes just below the level of the houses. Some fishers are coming back from a night on the water. Others are heading out to spend the morning at sea.
The air is a mix of humid saltiness and smoke from cooking fires. The sound of conversations in the Bajau language rises with the sun into an all day hum. Waking up in Sampela is waking up to all of this. There is no door to close, no place to zone out. As an outsider, from the moment you wake up, you never forget where you are.
For the next three weeks, Kelli and I will be in non-stop conversation with Saipa, her husband Andar, and their friends and neighbors in Sampela. We will conduct extensive interviews with fishers, students, community leaders, and elders. We’ll listen and learn from people who have refused to give up their lives at sea even as their environment, culture, and economy have rapidly transformed.
There are a lot of incredible storytellers in Sampela. They know how to draw a person in and leave them begging to know what happens next (“So... was it really a ghost???”). I can only guess that storytelling is a useful skill for people who spend many hours and sometimes days at sea.
In the past, Bajau families would gather their boats together when the seas were calm and spend hours under the stars listening to stories about their ancestors’ adventures.
Everything is fluid. I love it.
But the Bajau are not just conversationalists among people. Life at sea itself is a dialogue.
Through close observation and interaction with the environments where they live and fish,
Bajau people haven’t only developed the ability to speak with authority about the ocean.
They’ve come to live in dialogue with the weather, the tide, the seasons, and the life cycles of marine animals.
About Matt Colaciello
Matt Colaciello is on a journey around the world from his Floridian hometown in the United States. He is visiting some of the most exotic and environmentally dependent communities in the world and in the process allowing us to tag along via a set of travelogue posts.
The Colaciello family is a well established node in the cultural lodestone of New York City, Bob Colacello, his uncle was the editor of Interview Magazine throughout the 80s and a long time special correspondent for Vanity Fair. In fact, just recently, Bob Colaciello made news when he claimed authoritatively that Andy would be dating Kim Kardashian in 2018.
Matt has chosen a wholly different path and in the process created his own wake in the global community of social observers of both climate change and cultural exchanges.