On the northern coast of an island just off Bali, live the Seaweed People. The rhythm of their lives flows in parallel to the cycle of their primary crop, seaweed. They talk, live, breathe, eat, work – and probably dream – in shades and colors of seaweed.
Setting out to sea, sometimes in the wee hours of the night, the Seaweed People drag large woven bamboo baskets behind them into the shallow waters, kept afloat by the inner tubes onto which they’re placed.
Occasionally, they tie themselves up by rope to the tubes, on the off-chance that the tide will carry away their sole livelihood. Ingenious solutions are spotted everywhere.
The heads of the seaweed pickers are covered in tightly woven conical hats, only partly shading their skin so deeply burnished by the sun. They feel around for shrubs ready for the picking, grabbing hold of a bunch and piling them up into the baskets.
The Seaweed Children are reared in shacks lining the coast, the roaming dogs, the collectors’ baskets and nets sprouting from the sea their constant companions.
They are among the most joyful kids I’ve ever met, jostling, posing for the camera, throwing sand at each other.
Emerging from shyness when an inquiring visitor squats down to their eye level, snapping photos with their likenesses materializing magically in front of their eyes.
They may run about in flip flops, soiled dresses, and sun-faded shirts, but poverty doesn’t come to mind when all you see are toothless grins and infectious smiles.
Without family by their side, they won’t stray outside their familiar territory, bordered by invisible boundaries on the beach.
These kids, the next generation of Seaweed People, being reared on sun, water and (mostly) clean air. What will their lives be like when they too must subsist on earnings from the sale of seaweed? Will they still carry their smiles when laden down with the weight of tubes, baskets and their own kin?
I’m amazed that the rice growers haven’t come up with the idea of using seaweed as a fertiliser in their padi fields. There is so much seaweed round Bali, and it would make a very cheap, natural and effective fertliser instead of the expensive chemicals that they use instead. Lovely post, Amit.
That would be a great, sustainable and eco-friendly solution… for all of Bali and surrounding islands. thnx Lottie 😉
Your title got me. What happens once it’s harvested? What’s the rest of the story?
Ah yes..more story, another time 😉
… but in brief: dried, sold to Javanese middlemen & mostly used for pet food and cosmetics.
I loved this post Amit. Where is this place on Bali and what do they do with the seaweed? Sell it? To whom and for what? You got me curious!
Hi Sharon. It’s on Nusa Penida. See my reply to Sherry 😉
I often think peoples like these are the last repositories of the wisdom which was man’s before we started modernising our idea of what was possible and desirable
It might be innate wisdom borne of knowledge carried through the generations, of the land, sea, climate and the cycle of life. You think?
That is exactly what I think. Through travel and opportunity and diversions, ‘modern’ man’ can get easily distracted from the fundamentals and rhythm’s of life in a way these people have no opportunity to explore.
My curiosity has also been peaked, what is the seaweed used for?
Oops, Arlene, sorry… I seem to have left some hanging in suspense.. see my reply to Sherry 😉
I once visited Nusa Lembongan – in October, I think. The beaches were filled with colorful seaweeds. I could smell them from the inn.
The farmers told me that the seaweed will end up, mostly as cosmetic products. How interesting!
Yes indeed… Next time.. Lembongan! It would be nice to know that the seaweed people were getting a fair deal…
Great photos of the children!
Thank you Hayley, I loved hanging out with those kids.. seeing how they slowly came out of their shell as I knelt down to the sand and joked around with them. So precious 😉