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Early of this month, Pohuwato, one of the Gorontalo regencies in northern Sulawesi, just celebrated its 14th Anniversary. I was there with few of my friends to attend the Pesona Pulau Pohon Cinta Festival which was part of the celebration. We also explored few potential areas for tourism around Pohuwato and one of the places we went was the Bajo Tribe Village in Torosiaje.
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First time I heard about “Bajo” was in Labuan Bajo, Flores, and without my knowing that Bajo is actually the name of a tribe. Bajo Tribe is well-known as voyagers. They sail from one place to another and once they find a suitable place to live, they will settle down there. Bajo Tribe commonly lives along the shore in Tomini Bay (Teluk Tomini) in Central of Sulawesi and in the eastern part of Indonesia and also in the Phillippines.
The houses in Torosiaje were not built on the land but two to three meters above the sea. It was started in the year 1902, in a mangrove forest that was grown in a circle, right in the middle there was where the first four houses were built. As the number of population increased, the more houses were built. To date, there are about 14000 people living in Torosiaje with four sub-villages and 13 tribes living together in harmony.
That night, we were gathered at the front deck of the restaurant where we had our dinner in Torosiaje. We were sitting on a long bench on the deck and putting all our concentration listening to the story about this village. The Village’s Secretary Officer, just call him Mr. J, shared with us interesting stories about the Bajo Tribe and also Torosiaje. At that time, we had so many questions to ask.
Why they build their houses on the sea?
Why don’t they live on the land?
What is Torosiaje?
So, there is a saying that Bajo Tribe originally came from Johor, a state in southern Malaysia. Long time ago, there was a princess from Johor that went to the river for a bath. While she was taking a bath, suddenly flood came and rolled her away and she was gone missing. The King of Johor heard about the news and commanded his people, the Bajo tribe, to find her daughter back. As he thought that the flood might have rolled her to the ocean, so, he commanded his people to sail out to the sea to find the Princess.
The Bajo people sailed near and far. They went from one island to another and rested and then continue the search for a period of time. Long story short, the Princess was eventually found. But the important point is not that, but the mission of searching the Princess is. Because that mission that required them to sail for long and far, they became very well in sailing. They moved from one place to another, living a nomadent life since then.
They live and breathe sea
Although sailing is still in the blood of the Bajo Tribe, however, nowadays we can see most of them have lived permanently at one place. Most of them work as fishermen and that also happens in Torosiaje. They still fishing using the traditional spearfishing or netting techniques. They sell their catches to the people on the land for a living while for the women in Torosiaje, some of them make living from producing snacks from the resources they have, like mangrove leaf snacks which have gained popularity lately.
Mr. J also mentioned that the local government did try to persuade the villagers to move to the land by providing them a house to stay and land for farming for each family. The villagers did move there but they didn’t stay for long. They finally went back again to Torosiaje and living their lifestyle as they used to be. “They live and breathe sea,” he said.
From four houses, now has grown to about 200 houses in the village. There are convenience shops, restaurants, polyclinics, function hall, and badminton court. There are also primary and junior high schools available for children in Torosiaje. As I see, Torosiaje is like a village we usually see, just that it is not on the ground.
The main transportation in Torosiaje is Leppa, a wooden boat made from Gopasa Batu trees that only grow on the rocky mountain that near to the shore. It is strong and durable and can sit up to 8 people. I only saw one modern speedboat parking at the village and that belongs to the government police officers.
We only stayed one night in the village but we learned so much thing. Especially me. You know, when the Bajo went on the mission of searching the princess, they wanted to stop on one island to take a rest. They said, “Singapore” which means stop by or stop over in Bajo language.
Yes. Singapore. You read it right. It is referring to Singapore, the country that I had lived for 11 years. How true is that, whether you agreed or not, I believe Bajo Tribe is still an important part of the history. Because of their way of life as voyagers in the earlier days, maybe, you and me, are related somehow under the same long-lost family tree? No? Aa..maybe I think too much. Just maybe.