Bungin Island is one of those places that just has to be seen to be believed. The “island” is actually a coral reef on which some 14,000 Bajau people live in a tight cluster of stilted homes. It is literally a landless village. Twice a day, the whole place is inundated on the high tide. The story goes that 200 years ago, a small group of Bajau fishermen used the tiny coral cove to dry their nets but fearing attack from the Sambawanese, they were forced to move there permanently. Before long, the settlement outgrew the original coral cove so villagers began stacking coral to support the foundations of new homes, setting the village on a course that has continued ever since. Village rules dictate that before a man can marry, he must first stack more coral rubble on which to build his marital home. Like the original fishermen, the Bungin Island residents still live on what the sea provides them, trading fish for rice and other necessities.
Bungin Island is located just off the coast from Alas. A recently constructed causeway has connected the island with the mainland peninsular just 5km northwest of Alas so it’s easy to get to. The villagers rarely get visitors but are most welcoming and likely to be as curious about you as you are about them. Many older residents only speak their native Bajau dialect which makes communication difficult, even with a Bahasa Indonesia translator, but everyone understands a smile and a wave.