KOTA KINABALU: A woman who took a video of Bajau Laut villagers approaching a tourist boat and asking for handouts says she never meant to cast them in a negative light.
The video has gone viral on social media since Monday.
Amirah Amir Hamja, who works for a tour company in Semporna, said she had never intended to post the video online.
Amirah, 24, said she only shared the video with two others, although she did not name them.
She said she took the video on June 26 while accompanying a group of tourists to Kg Tatagan, a sea settlement off Bohey Dulang island, one of the many islands off Semporna.
“Before bringing the tourists there, we briefed them that they could give foodstuff to the villagers, who have a settlement in the middle of the ocean, but it was not like they had to (give)… it is entirely up to them.
“When we got there, the villagers rowed to our boat and climbed onboard and some of them did scramble for the handouts and although they can be aggressive, they were never violent, or forceful and certainly not robbing them (the tourists),” she told FMT.
Amirah said the villagers would leave if not given anything and dismissed accusations from social media users who slammed the villagers.
“I ask that the public refrain from making negative comments… Sabahans will know of the real situation but people from outside may not,” she said.
Amirah lodged a police report, denying that she had posted the video online to cast a bad light on the Bajau Laut community.
She also posted a full statement on Facebook under the username “Pakej Pulau Semporna” to explain what had actually happened.
The Bajau Laut community lived in Sabah for generations but many did not have identification papers.
Besides Bohey Dulang, the community also lives off the islands of Mabul, Sibuan and Mantabuan.
Some tourists, including foreigners, were concerned that if the matter was not properly addressed, it could have negative consequences.
“I feel very sad why this kind of experience is brought into the tourism itinerary in Bohey Dulang. Whenever a boat arrives they will row their sampans as fast as possible to get their ‘gifts’,” said a local tourist Aaron G.
Yang Yang, from Shenzen, China, said the villagers relied on handouts from tourists.
“I feel bad… previously we gave them candies to make them happy but now, they will get upset if we don’t,” she said.
“As the proverb goes ‘to teach a man to fish is better than giving a man a fish. The Sea Bajaus should have their own culture and heritage that they should be proud of,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment assistant minister Assafal Alian said the ministry was aware of the video.
“We first have to establish if it really happened in Sabah.
“We will conduct our investigations before making a formal statement,” he said.