The most poignant moment in the first episode of Hunters of the South Seas (BBC 2 last night), in which Will Millard stayed with a Bajau family in Indonesia, came during the night. In the two-room house on stilts eight feet above the sea, Millard was close enough to ask a little boy, “Lobo, what are you dreaming about?” To which Lobo replied: “I’m dreaming about fishing.”
Lobo, however, has a disability that prevents him from swimming, which puts him at a severe disadvantage in a community of people who are “more at home in water than on land”, and who depend on the god of the sea, Bojango, for all their needs.
The Bajau, who until recently spent their entire lives at sea, are having to make adjustments to a changing world. Bojango has been less bountiful of late, perhaps because outsiders in their powerful boats are scooping up in a quarter of an hour what the locals might take two or three months to catch. The Bajau are also increasingly at the mercy of a predator they don’t encounter in the water: the loan shark.
Last night’s programme was the first in a series of three for which Millard, 31, spent three months learning how Indonesians make a living from the sea. If you missed it, it’s available on iPlayer (as is his “Journey of a Lifetime”, aired on Radio 4 in 2013, on his descent of the Mano and Moro Rivers, which divide Sierra Leone and Liberia).