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The sea gypsies

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Generations of Muslim Bajau and Suluk peoples have farmed the Celebes and Sulu seas for fish, sea cucumbers, shells and other marine products. Often dubbed sea gypsies, these people were originally nomads who lived aboard intricately carved wooden boats called lepa-lepa. Most are now settled in Semporna or on the islands around it, but their love of (and dependence upon) the sea remains strong, and the traditional red and yellow sails of the Bajau boats can sometimes still be seen billowing in the breeze. Every April, the Regatta Lepa Semporna (wetawau.com/Semporna/LEPA/LEPA.htm) sees the boats converge on the town for two days. Amid traditional singing and dancing, as well as sea sports and competitions, awards are given for the best lepa-lepa.

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