Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sabah's Danawan Island is home to sea gypsies


Even a short visit to this island in east Sabah will leave a lasting impression.

DANAWAN is one of the bigger islands in the 9,300ha Semporna Marine Park in east Sabah, but it is not as well-known as neighbouring Sipadan or Mabul. Although located along the Ligitan reef complex which offers some of the best dive sites in the world, Danawan is not a tourist draw like those other islands.

There are no resorts or beachside chalets on this 0.63sqkm island in the Celebes Sea and no tour or boat companies to rely on for scheduled itineraries. If you’re lucky, you might catch the three-hour ride back with one of the island residents who come to the mainland for supplies or to trade. Your return passage is another story.

The Star’s assistant chief photographer Raja Faisal Hishan recently spent a few hours on Danawan as a guest of the Malaysian Armed Forces, along with other members of the media, when Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi visited its joint forces command base there.

The military set up camp on the island after the hostage crisis in 2000 when the militant group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 people from a resort in Sipadan.

Danawan, also called Denawan (but not to be confused with Dinawan, a private island with a resort in the South China Sea off Kota Kinabalu in west Sabah), has about 1,400 residents, most of whom are Bajau, or sea gypsies. Their homes are built on stilts by the water’s edge but a few still live in their traditional boats called lipa-lipa.

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