The Bajau and Bajau Laut populations make
up the second largest indigenous group in the East Malaysian state of
Sabah. The majority of Bajau in Sabah have become sedentary, living in
houses inland or on the islands. Traditionally the Bajau Laut (normally
referred to as sea gypsies) were one of the major maritime communities
of South-East Asia. Living on seagoing boats, they migrated between the
islands of the southern Philippines, eastern Borneo and the Indonesian
island of Sulawesi. Today, while most have abandoned the seafaring
lifestyle, a few still live as their ancestors did - on handmade boats
migrating from island to island.
For the Bajau Laut, dance is an important
part of their culture and is often used in healing rituals or
celebrations such as weddings. Unaccompanied by song or lyrics, the
myths and legends of the seafaring people are conveyed via the dance
movements. For instance, the tarirai, performed to the beat of a
traditional musical ensemble - made up of nine small kettle gongs, three
hanging gongs and two double-headed drums - and the dancers' wooden
castanets tell the story of seafarers out on a jaunt to look for
seashells. While on their trip, they encounter a strange animal. The
steps of the dance depict the evasive actions they take.
The limbaian, meanwhile, is a dance
originally performed for healing, usually every three months during the
full moon. It's performed by three or four couples and is characterized
by graceful, rotating wrist movements. The tabawan also has its
origins in healing rituals and is described as lakkas-lakkas
(fast) because it's performed at a frantic pace towards the end of a
Mesmerizing as these dances are, the
danger of their extinction is very real. Only a few still perform the
dance and with the young leaving the villages to seek their fortune in
the cities, these traditional steps are in danger of being lost forever.
Music from other cultures, are also a threat.
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