Matt Colaciello: Postcard From the Edge of Climate Change - Arrival in Sampela, the Ocean Village of the Bajau People

Matt Colaciello

Matt Colaciello

Stephen Dare: Matt, how do we describe you and your work?

Matt Colaciello: I'm a cross-cultural digital storyteller. My work brings audiences to the periphery of their world to see that it is the center of someone else’s. I spent 10 years working in West Africa, India, and Indonesia to learn about some of the biggest issues facing our world: climate change, inequity, and fight for human rights. Now I engage change makers all over the world in sharing their insights through telling their stories.


You can find more about Matt at The Global Workshop 


This is the second in a series of travelogue posts from Matt as he returns to Wakatobi National Park to visit with the Bajau people of Indonesia.  Check out the beginning of the series here
Matt Colaciello


In the Bajau village of Sampela in Wakatobi National Park, everything is a conversation.

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.


My friend Saipa has already been up for a couple hours to bake the pandan-flavored sticky rice cakes she sells to supplement her husband’s income. I head to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and join Saipa and my filmmaking partner, Kelli Swazey, on the floor. They’re already deep in conversation

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.

Matt Colaciello
photo/Matt Colaciello
The Village of Sampela

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.

Today, as the sun goes down, the boardwalk fills with people out to chat. They move in and out of each others homes. Knocking first would seem absurd. Teenagers roam in groups, join conversations, pass around a guitar, and then take off for the next spontaneous gathering.
Matt Colaciello
photo/Matt Colaciello
Mrs. Bapanda, fisherwoman and grandmother sitting on the porch of her home.

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,

Matt Colaciello
photo/Matt Colaciello
As the sun goes down, everyone comes out to the boardwalk to hang out.

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.

I can’t wait to share with you what they’re saying!
Matt Colaciello
photo/Matt Colaciello
Andar and I on the beach of Hoga Island, a 15-minute canoe trip from Sampela.

About Matt Colaciello

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.


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Stephen Dare

Editor in Chief

Traveller, writer, chef, entrepreneur and natural born gossip. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, but has lived in the five corners of the US. (Florida, San Francisco, Seattle, NYC and Muncie, Indiana). Big fan of Dorothy Parker, Thorne Smith, Ogden Nash, Quentin Crisp and Graydon Carter. Although not necessarily in that order.

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