Learning Points: The Badjao tribe teach us how to treat our oceans with respect

Richard Hogan welcomed three members of the Badjao tribe into his home last year. The experience changed his life
Learning Points: The Badjao tribe teach us how to treat our oceans with respect
Semporna, Sabah, Malaysia - April 19, 2015: Bajau Laut children paddle in boats near stilted houses in The Celebes Sea.The Bajau Laut are nomadic sea gypsies.

Every summer for the last 13 years I have been very privileged to travel to the Philippines and work with the children of the Badjao tribe. They are the most beautiful people you could meet. Full of fun, respect, and curiosity about the world they live in. 

Last year, as part of a cultural exchange, I brought three members of the tribe, Judy, Jackie, and Danilo to live with my family for five weeks. It was such a special time, watching my children and the Badjao embrace each other completely —  free from any barriers we adults might have.

My children would wake at 5am and watch the Badjao as they prepared rice for their morning meal. It was fascinating to observe the difference between the two worlds. They couldn’t comprehend the convenience of our world. In fact, the first day they arrived I found the three of them sitting in front of the washing machine, staring at it. They had never seen anything like it before. 

When I explained what it was and showed them the dishwasher they turned to me and asked ‘but what does your wife do?’ The cultural differences were never so glaring than at that moment.

Most Sundays I wake to hear my daughters talking loudly to their Badjao friends on Facebook messenger, asking questions about how they have been, telling them all about their own lives in Dublin and watching as the Badjao go out on skiffs for the day to catch their dinner. 

It has been the greatest learning of my life, working with the people of the Badjao tribe and it has really expanded my children’s concept of themselves and the world they live in.

When I think about education and the importance of good education, I know those five weeks were more important for their development and sense of stewardship than any class could possibly teach them.

 I believe there is something magical about that tribe and how they live. They are only interested in family and love. There is no word in their dialect for suicide.

And when you watch them interact with their ecology you see there is something special in that dynamic. A sense of harmony. Togetherness. Like they understand something about the environment that we don’t.

This is Ocean Week, and I thought it would be a nice idea to write about the Badjao because they have such a unique relationship with the ocean. Like any seafaring people, they rely on the ocean to survive. 

Of course, we all rely on the ocean to survive but we don’t think like that because we have so many food sources.

The ocean makes up 70% of the world's surface, and it is crucial for our survival on this planet. Oceans serve as an important barrier to global warming. It acts almost like a sponge, soaking up roughly a quarter of the carbon dioxide that humans produce from their activity on the planet, such as factories and power plants, etc.

This is hugely significant to our way of life on this planet, as the oceans function to regulate the heat of the planet. However, in recent times marine ecosystems have come under threat, due to plastic waste. 

We have seen the pictures of plastic pollution on our beaches and the impact that is having on marine life.

So, we have all become more aware of the need to use compostable products. What better piece of data do we need than the ocean temperature rising, to tell us that we must start, in a very serious and deliberate way, to change our habits while we can.

In family therapy we are always looking at feedback loops and what they are communicating to us in relation to the issue that the family is dealing with. 

Feedback is such an important part of understanding systems. 

We are receiving very clear feedback from our oceans that we need to look at how we are living. Our blue planet is suffering and clearly telling us that it is suffering, but are we listening?

Living through a pandemic gives you an insight into what it would be like to live through global ecological collapse. We know that this particular virus will be dealt with when a vaccine is produced. We do not have such assurances about our climate and oceans.

The light of hope is that we start to work in a collective meaningful way. This is the only approach to any imminent threat that jeopardises our existence on this planet. But the rhetoric coming from some of our world leaders gives us less reason to be hopeful.

When I think about the Badjao and analyse their relationship with the ocean I see that they understand that all life comes from it and it is sacred and must be protected. We must start to think like the Badjao and protect our oceans.

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