Sea Gypsy | A Life Less Ordinary
When I first stepped on the soil in the small fisherman village that our tour guide had brought us, I could already tell there nothing much happens in this place. Life is that simple. There are roughly around 30-40 houses built above the water, but most of the residents weren't around to be seen. Panglong Village is located on the northern side of Bintan Island, in Telok Sebong district, where it has been a home for the sea gypsy tribe around the island. The village itself was the fruition of the Indonesian government initiative to encourage the tribe to get an education and healthcare over 40 years ago.
According to some history sources, the tribe has been living around the Bintan and Riau Islands' water territorial for centuries. They made a home of their canoes and spent most of their time on the water, where they barely touched the land with their feet. They only came to the land to fetch clean water supply. Every family used to have two canoes. They used the big one as the main living area, where they cook and sleep, while the small canoe was used to hunt. The old tales said that these people were known as the best mermaid hunter.
Even though the village itself was officially announced as a tourism village a few years ago, the village has been left as natural as possible. There is no restaurant where tourist can buy food, no inn or hostel to host passers-by. The time we spent there, it felt as if we're visiting someone's neighbourhood. We could see some children running around the street. There was a small stall owned by one of the residents, selling some sachet drinks and daily needs, where some of the mothers and elderly sitting around sipping their ice orange juice, exchanging stories of their children and the catch from the sea.
We sat there on the bench made of wood in front of the stall, and naturally overheard their conversation of the sea and weather. As most of them are traditional fishermen, they're using their passed-down knowledge about nature to predict where is the best spot to catch fish by listening to the sound of the echo formed by the sea water hitting the corals from the floor of their canoe and how they predict the weather - if there's a storm coming their way, just by looking at the shape and the height of the clouds.
As I spent a few hours there, I had a mixed feeling about this place and the people. I realised how privileged my life has been. I came from a place where electricity and water are easily accessible. Education is, out of questions, something that everyone should have. But at the same time, looking at the way they live, their life also doesn't feel like they lack anything. Of course, I believe, they still have their own problems as individuals and as a community, but they preserve the way of life that their ancestors have passed down to them. I admire that they don't forget where they came from.